As Hudson Valley and regional elected officials, civic leaders, and citizens have weighed in on the new plans for the Tappan Zee project, the media has done an extensive and accurate job reporting on the broad, vocal support for public transit. However, one piece of commonly reported information is worth a closer look: The claim that transit “could add $10 to $15 billion to the cost of the project,” or that “transit could drive the project cost up to $21 billion.” This phrasing glides over the fact that a cross-corridor bus rapid transit system, which had been planned to open simultaneously with the bridge, would cost much less — about 90% less, in fact.
The “$10 to $15 billion” figure combines the State DOT’s estimated costs for both a bus rapid transit system (from Suffern to Port Chester), and a commuter rail line connecting Rockland County and Grand Central Terminal. The bulk of that cost is for the rail system, which wouldn’t have been built until some future date. According to the agency’s 2009 “Transit Mode Selection Report,” the BRT portion of the project was estimated to cost $900 million to $2.5 billion, depending on how much heavy-duty infrastructure it included.
As Streetsblog’s Noah Kazis wrote earlier this week, saying that a $5.2 billion bridge replacement is affordable, but a $1 billion BRT system is not, is not an objective fact but a statement of the governor’s priorities: “‘Affordable,’ in this case, really just means ‘worth the cost.’ If Cuomo viewed building transit across the Tappan Zee as vital, transit might be ‘affordable’ as well.”
Given the public consensus that transit is vital, and the important economic and environmental benefits it would bring to the Hudson Valley, the Cuomo administration must find a way to make it work. For example, it may be worth taking a second look at the engineering to identify ways to reduce costs without compromising service.
So far, there’s no indication that the administration is interested in doing so. At an October public meeting at the Palisades Center in West Nyack, NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said a BRT system would cost “two billion to four billion dollars,” but hasn’t really explained how she came to this conclusion. McDonald also claimed that “We’re speeding up construction of the bridge, we’re not slowing down transit.” Given that the new project includes lacks the guarantee of transit the old project deemed necessary, that is simply false.
Image: Via NYSDOT.