Because the Tappan Zee, Bridge wasn’t built to accomodate rail access, Metro-North routes must pass through New Jersey to feed areas of west of the Hudson River, and this quirk of planning represents one of the greatest impediments to transit-oriented development in this potentially exurban area. The state along with the MTA, though, has a plan — for $16 billion — to outfit the aging bridge’s replacement with a new structure replete with transit. The plans are out there, but the money isn’t.
Inevitably, this story begins in 1990 when Metro-North requested $5 million to study connections that would span the Hudson River. Part of that plan included a new crossing south of the Tappan Zeen with a connection to Stewart Airport as well. In 1999, then-MTA Chair E. Virgil Conway chaired a task force charged with examining solutions to Tappan Zee congestion. The group, he said, planned to explore “the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge as well as solutions that combine a new bridge with various rail alternatives.”
More recently, though, the state has tried to move the Tappan Zee project along quicker. The bridge is 55 years old and suffering from overuse, and two years ago, the MTA unveiled a $16-billion replacement project complete with plans to make room for rail access on the bridge and to build a new Metro-North spur from Suffern to the Hudson Line. Instead of trying to repair the bridge, the state would simply build a new one.
On Friday, this ambitious project took another step forward as the state whittled down its six replacement options to two. With these proposals on the table, the MTA, New York State Department of Transportation and the State Thruway Authority will publish a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in early 2011. “Refining the options to be further analyzed in the environmental study now underway is a crucial step in progressing this project,” Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut said. “We are closer than ever to a consensus and I’m pleased with the progress made so far on this very complex project, which will affect the region for the next 150 years.”
The plans for the bridge are ambitious. In both versions, the Tappan Zee replacement would include eight lanes for private auto travel, two dedicated bus rapid transit lanes, a pedestrian and bike lane and a two-track rail line. Plan 5, above on the right, would allow for the expansion of up to four rail lines. That plan, reported The Journal-News, would have just 66 supports instead of 118 and would thus take less time to build. (It’s worth noting that the rail aspects of the project would not happen at the same time as the road. Both designs allow for the road to open first and the rail to be added later.)
Ideally, construction on this project would start in 2015, but therein lies the rub. No one knows how this project will be funded. The current price tag for this project is $16 billion, and state officials claim this cost hasn’t risen in two years. It would add 30 miles of BRT to I-287 and the rail line, but the costs for each piece are high. The bridge by itself costs $6.4 billion with another $1 billion ticketed for BRT and $6.7 billion for the rail. Officials say they are looking at “traditional and innovative” funding sources.
“There will need to be multiple funding resources,” Phil Ferguson, one of the project’s financial gurus, said. “There’s no single source that can pay for the whole thing. It’s unrealistic to think we can get 100 percent federal funding for project.” Cautioning that starting construction sooner rather than later will keep costs down, he later added, “We would have only been able to bond $2 billion — far less than than the $8.3 billion needed to just build the bridge.”
This Tappan Zee replacement will right some of the wrongs of the 1950s. It will improve mobility and access to parts of the state that aren’t far from Manhattan but seem it. It will be one of the best transit-oriented developments outside of the core of New York City in years. But who will fund it?