In what was called “breaking news” at last night’s News 12 town hall in Tarrytown, where attendees discussed the project to replace the Tappan Zee, New York State announced that it would dedicate a lane to buses on the new bridge, on day one—but only during rush hour. The announcement, made by Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz, was an important first step, and a small victory that will improve bus commutes for hundreds of existing daily bus riders that idle in gridlock along with cars and trucks.
In a statement, Tri-State praised the state for being more accountable to the public process by responding to the thousands of calls for transit on the new bridge. Since October 2011, when the new bridge project was announced, and a 10-year study process for a bridge with transit was abruptly terminated, countless voices have called for transit on the bridge as the only way to truly address the mobility needs of the notoriously congested corridor. At the forefront of this call for transit have been Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who issued his own statement in response to yesterday’s news, and Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef. Mayors in Nyack and Tarrytown, along with environmental groups such as Riverkeeper, and others have sounded off in support of bus rapid transit as well.
The move to convert the “emergency access lane” to a dedicated bus lane, called for by groups like Tri-State, signals that the state and the New York State Thruway Authority might finally be serious about ensuring that the bridge is built to accommodate transit.
Although this is tremendous progress, the state still continues to purport that adding bus rapid transit to the corridor will cost $5 billion. While claiming that transit advocates and others were “holding the bridge hostage” with calls for transit while repeatedly citing the $5 billion cost—an unsubstantiated figure that has been inflated 400% from 2009 state documents—Mr. Schwartz erodes the prospect that the state is thinking creatively about bus rapid transit in the corridor. The state defends the cost increase with dubious cost assumptions, though advocates, local leaders and residents continue to call for relatively inexpensive bus accommodations, like expanding dedicated bus lane service beyond rush hour and extending dedicated lanes into the I-287 corridor in both Westchester and Rockland Counties, improvements that would not cost $5 billion but a few hundred million dollars.
Additionally, Mr. Schwartz continued to indicate that the $5 billion bus rapid transit cost would be borne by taxpayers of Westchester and Rockland Counties, insisting that “tolls on the Tappan Zee Bridge will double to pay for buses,” a misleading statement because no existing funding plan for any part of the project exists to date.