Let’s build a bridge. Let’s stick it across the widest part of the Hudson River. Let’s spend 10 years making sure various state stakeholders — transit advocates, municipalities on either side — agree on the form of the bridge. And then let’s torpedo these plans when the federal government dangles some easy-access dollars in our face. Let’s cancel the transit aspects of the plan, proclaim the desire to have the bridge last 100 years and promise that we’ll build the transit connection, you know, later.
If that sounds like an idea straight out of the 1950s, well, that’s because it is. Apparently New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t get the message. Today, the Governor revealed the state’s new plans for the span that will replace the aging Tappan Zee Bridge. For a few billion dollars, the state will build a massive bridge, and it won’t include transit options. It won’t have bus lanes for true express service; it won’t provide a cross-Hudson rail link. Located barely 28 miles north of Times Square, this bridge will just service cars. It is New York’s very own ARC Tunnel mistake.
The Tappan Zee story is one I’ve followed closely over the past few years. When plans were put forward in 2008 to replace the Tappan Zee, transit was a centerpiece, and over the intervening years, transit remained part of the plans. A year ago, we espied renderings with rail, but funding remained scarce. And then barely a week ago, we learned that in order to fast-track the Tappan Zee span, transit had been cut. The uproar has been tremendous.
“I am troubled by the proposed design’s absence of a mass transit component that would help alleviate congestion,” Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, one of many politicians speaking out against the new project, said. “A new bridge — without a mass transit component — would already be at capacity on the day of its opening.”
From both sides of the Hudson, from politicians and transit advocates alike, the decision to temporarily set aside a cross-Hudson transit connection has been slammed, but there’s a problem: No one knows who is responsible. As Streetsblog detailed this week, neither US DOT nor New York State officials have new scoping information packet is awkwardly silent on the decision to roll back a decade’s worth of planning.
“While advancing financial analysis,” the document says rather passively, “it was determined that funding for the corridor project (bridge replacement, highway improvements, and new transit service) was not possible at this time. The financing of the crossing alone, however, was considered affordable. Therefore, it was determined that the scope of the project should be limited, and efforts to replace the Hudson River crossing independent of the transit and highway elements should be advanced.”
Yesterday, the state unveiled more details concerning the Tappan Zee replacement span. It will be designed to last 100 years; it will leave some space for future transit improvements — improvements that will cost more to build and likely will never materialize; and it will be wide. It’s an alluring vision but one that rests upon fault assumptions. As Cap’n Transit recently explained, bridge traffic cannot continue on an upward trajectory for much longer without causing some congestion that would seriously drain the economies in Rockland, Bergen and Orange.
In a way, then, this decision is worse than New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s move to cancel the ARC Tunnel. There, he simply let the status quo stand. Here, Cuomo and the Feds are on the verge of funding something that will move transit-oriented progress backward in time. Even if the state or D.C. eventually found the money to add transit to the middle of the bridge, a wider roadway already in use won’t move the region forward.
It’s not too late for the Tappan Zee. The public comment period on the scoping document will last another three weeks, and already the public is making its voice heard. Yet, government officials say they had no choice. The money, they say, simply wasn’t there. Yet, New York could probably get away with tearing down the Tappan Zee and building nothing if they spent the $5.2 billion on improving rail service. That’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room.
For now, we wait. In one year’s time, we’ve seen transit projects in the form of the ARC Tunnel and the Tappan Zee replacement span flushed down the drain. In the future, adding transit will require another round of environmental impact studies, and rail routes after the fact rarely see the light of day. The stick is dangling, but the carrot is a rotten one.”The same thing was said when the George Washington Bridge was built,” Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick said. “That magnificent structure celebrated its eightieth anniversary, and we’re still waiting for the train to come on that bridge.”