Home Metro-North For the Tappan Zee, renderings with rail but no funding yet

For the Tappan Zee, renderings with rail but no funding yet

by Benjamin Kabak

The two final proposed replacements for the Tappan Zee Bridge.

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?

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Tom Zig October 18, 2010 - 1:23 am

Ideally, construction on this project would start in 2015

So what happens first: Alex Rodriguez’s current contract expires or the new Tappan Zee gets built?

But yeah anyway, construction won’t start until 2015? Jeez. I don’t know if the current Tappan Zee can hold up that long. It’s already long overdue to be replaced.

Also, I cringe at the thought of how the eventual construction will impact the traffic in my hometown.

Mitch45 October 18, 2010 - 8:05 am

If there is $16 billion available for road construction, it should be spend on getting rid of the Koszkiuszko Bridge and/or the Gowanus Expressway.

BrooklynBus October 18, 2010 - 9:28 am

The Koskiuszko Bridge supposed to be rebuilt soon, I thought. Gowanus is up in the air.

Frank B. October 18, 2010 - 8:32 am

Two Words: Infrastructure Bank.

Obama’s 100% on the right track with this one. If we’re going to replace and repair this nation’s rails, roads, and runways, we’re going to need that bank. And God knows we’re going to need it ASAP.

AK October 18, 2010 - 9:42 am

I agree that a bank is needed, but to echo sentiments long discussed by Alon (amongst others), the bank will be of limited use if the projects consistently come in far above cost projections. In other words, the bank itself can’t solve the underlying political/financial issues that are the largest obstacles to transit improvement.

TN Moving Stories: TIGER Grant Winners Leak Out, Flights into France Cut, Tappan Zee Bridge Replacements Unveiled | Transportation Nation October 18, 2010 - 8:36 am

[…] Final replacement Tappan Zee Bridge spans unveiled.  With: rail link. Without: funding. (Second Avenue Sagas) […]

E. Aron October 18, 2010 - 9:19 am

It’s really important that something like this gets built, but there will be many obstacles. On the Rockland County side, the bridge feeds into Nyack, NY – a town with many historic sites and a population concerned with preserving them. If anything needs to get demolished, as this is a pretty well-developed town, expect fierce opposition. Additionally, the TZ is more than 3 miles long – I’m not really sure who will want to walk that span, as that would likely take more than an hour. Currently, buses b/w Rockland and Westchester are pretty infrequent, so I’m not sure that a dedicated bus lane is necessary, but that is something that should change in the future. It’s still a car-dependent area, though.

There needs to be better transportation alternatives b/w Rockland and Westchester, but just as important to connecting Rockland to the city is the ARC. It takes more than an hour to take NJ Transit from Pearl River to Penn Station, well over an hour sitting in traffic on a bus to get to Port Authority, while in a car that trip takes 30 minutes.

John October 18, 2010 - 10:20 am

A rail connection from the Hudson anchorage of the new Tappan Zee Bridge to Suffern, to connect up with the existing commuter rail network, is bound to bring the Rockland County NIMBYs out in force, unless the state can somehow pair the ROW with the existing path of the Thruway. And given the grade requirements for trains vs. cars and trucks coming up from the river, even that route would require either costly tunnels or some switchbacks to lower the uphill/downhill grade. So as far as a true rail connection that could link Grand Central to areas west of the Hudson, the $16 billion would have to be augmented by at least a few billion more dollars to make the rail link viable.

JoshKarpoff October 18, 2010 - 3:16 pm

The proposed rail ROW for Rockland uses both the I-287 corridor and the abandoned “Piermont Line” ROW, a defunct railroad ROW bought up by the MTA, between the existing Pascak Valley Line and the Port Jervis Line. So by using existing ROW’s, the MTA can 1) keep costs down and 2) avoid as much NIMBY reaction.

The $16 Billion figure includes the rail link. Without the rail link (but leaving provision for future rail use) the bridge replacement will run about $10 Billion according to estimates. Part of the rail link will probably include a tunnel on the Westchester side (they haven’t decided on tunnel versus trestle, but they seem to be leaning toward a tunnel). You have to remember that commuter rail has better grade tolerances than freight rail. Currently, there are no plans to allow freight rail on the replacement bridge.

You can read more about this project yourself, on the official project page, http://www.tzbsite.com

Completion of this project will seriously improve regional mobility, air quality, ease congestion and help make Rockland and Orange counties feel like they’re getting some benefit from the taxes they pay to the MTA.

Eric F. October 18, 2010 - 9:21 am

The current bridge is a tolled facility. Can’t tolls cover at least part of the cost?

To me, one of the biggest flaws in regional planning in the NY area is that there is no crossing between the GW and the Tap. Even a 2 lane in each direction connection between the Cross County Parkway and the Palisades Parkway would make a huge difference.

Asher October 18, 2010 - 10:16 am

It looks like that was part of the plan in the 1960s: http://www.nycroads.com/roads/cross-county/

Bolwerk October 18, 2010 - 8:34 pm

Yeah, and you think Westchester NIMBYs are easier to take on than Rockland NIMBYs?

Seriously, though, it’s potentially illegal. The PA apparently has a monopoly on all crossings south of the Tappan Zee – that’s why the Tappan Zee is conveniently located on the widest part of the river.

Al D October 18, 2010 - 9:26 am

Both proposals seem over ambitious for that region, but perhaps that’s done to account for scope contraction, that is the reducing or eliminating of certain plan aspects onces the politicians and accountants get their hands on the project.

The 4 track option is a good idea beacuse who knows where and wha additional track capacity may be needed. But 4 lanes of BRT? That is overkill.

There should be sufficient room for cyclists and pedestrians.

Benjamin Kabak October 18, 2010 - 9:29 am

Only two BRT lanes, one on each span.

Cap'n Transit October 18, 2010 - 10:55 am

Unless they’ve changed something, the LoHud article is wrong and the lanes won’t be exclusive bus lanes, they’ll be high occupancy/toll lanes. That’s what all the previous documents say.

BrooklynBus October 18, 2010 - 9:29 am

You think anyone will walk over the Tappan Zee?

Eric F. October 18, 2010 - 9:43 am

Are they really only going to do 4 lanes in each direction??!!?? The bridge is already 4 lanes in the peak direction during rush hours and it’s completely seized up. Try taking the Tap to go for a weekend upstate on a summer Friday. They couldn’t even add 2 vehicle lanes? Unbelievable. These guys believe their own transit hype. No one is going to take BRT or a train to go hiking in the Catskills or to head to Lake George.

Benjamin Kabak October 18, 2010 - 9:47 am

No one is going to take BRT or a train to go hiking in the Catskills or to head to Lake George.

The vast majority of people taking the Tappan Zee aren’t going hiking or heading to Lake George. They’re commuters, and enough of them would take transit to get to their destination to justify adding it.

JebO October 18, 2010 - 9:52 am

The bridge is at capacity during rush hour because there’s no rail or BRT on it. Each of those modes of transportation moves many more people per hour than a car lane can, and they perform best during rush hour. They could actually stand to reduce the costs of this project by reducing the number of car lanes, which won’t be needed as long as the rail/BRT is in place.

Eric F. October 18, 2010 - 10:33 am

I doubt this will be alluring to people. You’ll have to drive to a park and ride lot, get on a bus, and then, I suppose, walk to your job. In January. If you’ve already started driving you may as well drive the whole way. This type of pattern works ok when Manhattan is the destination, but I don’t think it works well for people working in suburban locales.

Take the Tap on a summer weekend. It’s jammed and very few of the people on the bridge are headed to or from work. Better yet, keep heading north, you’ll find yourself in stop-and-go traffic pretty much all the way to Albany. I recently took a Saturday afternoon trip to the new massive pedestrian crossing in Poughikpsee (I have no idea how to spell that). There was a certain irony in driving stop-and-go for hours over an obviously antiquated alignment to get to a place where the state paid millions to build a pedestrain bridge. Anyway, leisure traffic itself overwhelms the corridor, if you don’t believe me, see for yourself.

Chris O'Leary October 18, 2010 - 11:39 am

Hey Eric, please cite me whatever data you have that suggests that summer traffic on the Tappan Zee is almost exclusively headed to far-off vacation destinations. “See for yourself” isn’t data. And it also doesn’t explain the traffic on mid-winter weekdays. You don’t think traffic engineers have poured over this? They’ve had 20 years to study it.

Eric F. October 18, 2010 - 11:43 am

The engineers are limited by politicians and litigants who require a smaller than useful alignment. The bridge and Thruway are crammed on weekends, and the exits are miles apart. If you want to suggest that the traffic is headed for close by places, fine do that. It’s beyond obvious that there is severe weekend congestion in this area, I’ve been in it many times. The Hudson Valley is yet another place you have to drive through at 8 a.m. on a Sunday in order to avoid being in a jam. It doesn’t have to be this way, but apparently $13 billion later, it will anyway.

Walter October 18, 2010 - 6:40 pm

Exits too far apart? Have you driven I-95 in Connecticut? Where there is an exit every mile for 50 miles? Spacing out the exits limits traffic, as people won’t use the highway for local trips.

Chris G October 18, 2010 - 12:04 pm

Eric. Your trip to the “new” pedestrian crossing in Poughkeepsie is proof of you’re not getting it.

This crossing is essentially just above the train station in Poughkeepsie. Why didn’t you take the train up?

As for the other comments, you mention that the TZB is already 4 lanes during peak time. 100% true and 100% afu at most hours of most days. But. The bus/HOV lanes (and they better not cheap out and make them 2 people ones…) will be an additional lane. So more people will get across the bridge. The currently used tolling system is terrible. Getting more than just the left lane expanding to two tolling stations will speed up the east bound traffic. Changing the road alignment where that 4th lane becomes 3 to out past the Palisades Parkway will help immensely. I don’t know if that last one is part of the plan but it should be.

The walking path, 3 miles or not, will get used. It will almost entirely be recreational, but it will get use. an hour out and an hour back to have those views people will do on a weekend. It will also have bike lanes. Which will get used as well.

I am all for the 4 track alignment as I believe that will just grow. My person hope and I know it’ll never happen because of Westchester NIMBYs (hate those) is that the Suffern train to Tarrytown would continue on to Port Chester. That would tie together all 4 major MNRR lines at a point above 125th Street. Something that desperately needs to be done.

But BRT/HOV lanes will alleviate the traffic on the bridge some as will the trains. Especially if they could ever figure a way to turn the train south into the city after crossing.

But the current road surface, especially coming east, is in terrible condition. It needs to be fixed or replaced ASAP. NIMBYism or not.

Eric F. October 18, 2010 - 1:08 pm

“This crossing is essentially just above the train station in Poughkeepsie. Why didn’t you take the train up?”

Exactly!!! Why would a person not take the train for such a trip? Because transporting a family by train is cumbersome. Because it requires coming and going by train schedule. Because it limits one’s ability to change plans, make side trips and the like. It requires taking account of transfers in scheduling. I could go on but you still won’t get it.

The bridge up there is awesome. Unfortunately, getting there via Thruway and the auto bridge over the Hudson downstream is an exercise in frustrating futility.

JoshKarpoff October 18, 2010 - 3:58 pm

“You’ll have to drive to a park and ride lot, get on a bus, and then, I suppose, walk to your job.”
You don’t use transit very often do you? I live in Croton-on-Hudson, which is an express stop on Metro-North’s Hudson Line and the end of the line for local service. The village owned parking lot at the train station now has over 2,000 parking spots and is typically 90% full on any given weekday. The village has had to expand the lot twice in the past 15 years in order to meet the demand. Most of the station’s passengers drive at least 10 minutes before they get to the station. Then once in NYC, they’ll either walk or take the subway to their jobs. It’s been this way for more than 3 generations now and if home values are any suggestion, people seem to really prefer this to driving.

Cap'n Transit October 18, 2010 - 10:59 am

People do take the bus and the train to go hiking in the Catskills, and other tourist and recreational activities. They did it in large numbers before the bridge was built, and they’ll do it again in large numbers after the bridge falls down. Until then, we have to deal with nasty traffic and struggling bus companies.

Eric F. October 18, 2010 - 11:39 am

Agreed, and they’ll go back to buring whale tallow for illumination if lightbulbs go away. Until then get used to bulbs and wall switches.

Cap'n Transit October 18, 2010 - 12:30 pm

One of these is progress, the other is not.

Alon Levy October 18, 2010 - 1:32 pm

Light bulbs don’t cost $16 billion to maintain.

Sharon October 18, 2010 - 11:16 pm

I tried to take metro north to go hiking once. By the time I got to the starting point to of the hike I was tired already

al January 16, 2011 - 8:13 pm

Bikes over the bridge. It also offers another path for emergency services on the bridge.

Option 5 seems to have enough vertical clearance for double stack well container cars. It wouldn’t be ideal, but this could be an alternative downstate cross-Hudson freight rail link to the cross harbor rail link.

Stewart Clamen October 18, 2010 - 9:46 am

The 1.28mi long railway bridge over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie was recently converted to pedestrian and cycle use.


Though longer, I imagine people would use the Tappan Zee similarly if the experience were pleasant enough.

Chris October 18, 2010 - 10:25 am

There’s a big difference between walking over a scenic pedestrian-only span and walking beside a massive 10-lane superhighway above a railroad. Also, that pedestrian bridge is part of a loop of about 3 miles. There’s no possible loop at the Tappan Zee, so assuming walkers need to get back to where they started, they are looking at 6 miles of Tappan Zee walking.

It seems like an obvious cut to me – it serves no practical purpose and there’s no way it’s the most cost-effective means of providing pleasant recreational activities along the Hudson.

Eric F. October 18, 2010 - 10:36 am

People walk over the GW Bridge. It’s a great amenity, and probably by far the least expensive aspect of the new bridge. I can’t imagine you’ll get many takers in the winter, and the bridge at that wide spot makes for a fairly lenghthy walk or bike, but you’ll certainly get many takers on nice days. Would also make for the nice centerpiece for locak charity runs and the like.

Think twice October 18, 2010 - 10:19 am

I really don’t get why people assume that Nyackers and Tarrytowners are physically and mentally incapable of walking. If folks upstate have a appreciation for power walks, romantic walks, slow aimless walks, hiking, pushing strollers, jogging, sight-seeing, great views, and sunsets over the water…then yes, people will use the spacious pedestrian paths. And they just might be outnumbered by the bicyclists.

As for the implications that it’s overbuilt or too preoccupied with pedestrians and transit, that the space should just maximize motor vehicles with two lanes grudgingly given over to trains, then what’s the alternative? Robert Moses style bridges with nominal transit. Even the Project Director Michael Anderson conceded that there will never be enough lanes of road to eliminate traffic altogether. So you might as well have as many congestion busting alternatives as possible. And yes that includes a maximum of four lanes of BRT (including thankfully a breakdown lane).

I truly hope this gets built in my lifetime.

MichaelB October 18, 2010 - 11:44 am

Is there space for expansion under the right side of Plan 5? There rendering appears to show a space there similar to th one on the left with the trains, but it’s empty.

Benjamin Kabak October 18, 2010 - 11:44 am

Yes there is. That’s the extra space.

Chris G October 18, 2010 - 12:09 pm

Its for the future use of RR tracks 3 and 4.

Alon Levy October 18, 2010 - 1:31 pm

If the RER A manages with two tracks, then so will the Tappan Zee crossing.

Tsuyoshi October 18, 2010 - 11:53 am

If the bridge is jammed, the toll is too low.

Chris G October 18, 2010 - 12:10 pm

Currently $5 single crossing.

I believe the monthly plan where you guarantee a certain charge per month is or recently was $2 per crossing.

When I last had that plan it was $17 a month minimum at $1 per crossing although that was already 7 years ago.

Alon Levy October 18, 2010 - 12:02 pm

$16 billion? Are they trying to make East Side Access look good or something?

Chris G October 18, 2010 - 12:13 pm

Alon. That is the entire corridor. Not just the bridge.

I am sure we’ll end up in the 7B, car only no bus no train corridor bridge range when these people get done with it no matter how wrong they are.

Christopher October 18, 2010 - 12:28 pm

Here’s the problem with honest cost figures. We just don’t want to pay what things cost. So we give out best case scenarios. And then bitch and moan when the price goes up later.

In the SF bay area, the new Bay Bridge: 1.9 miles in length. Not nearly as high up. With most of it being a highway on stilts, and while strengthened for trains, it would only be light rail. And is not included at this time. Price tag is $6.3B… but the actually cost is more like $12B.

But no one wants to hear that out of the gate. (It’s largely being via bond measures and tolls. Bonds of course add to the longterm cost.)

Things are expensive. We need to figure how to pay for them.

Alon Levy October 18, 2010 - 1:23 pm

This just means the per-km cost is close to that of the Big Dig, instead of higher.

AlexB October 18, 2010 - 5:02 pm

In plan 5, I wonder if the extra tracks could be used for future high speed rail. Although it would obviously be a great idea to have high speed rail in midtown Manhattan, it might make more sense to run it through Newark, up the Garden State Parkway, and then along I287 through White Plains, Going to White Plains or Newark to get to access high speed rail would not be the end of the world. In France, most TGV stations are not in the city center either.

Alon Levy October 18, 2010 - 7:48 pm

In France, all of the TGV stations serving major cities are in the city center. There is a major bypass of Paris, but that’s because of all Paris’s train stations are terminals. New York has a through-station; to build a bypass in addition to that is idiotic.

Walter October 18, 2010 - 6:49 pm

Will this rail line just end at the Hudson Line, or will it connect to it allowing trains to access Grand Central (or Penn Station via the Amtrak’s line)? I’m not sure the Park Avenue tunnel can handle any more trains than it currently does.

A better idea would be to run a line across the bridge to White Plains and on to Greenwich and then Stamford, tying together three job centers and allowing access to all three East of Hudson Metro-North Lines. Even light rail could work, especially if trains traveled on streets in both White Plains and Stamford as a sort of local transit system (but stopping at the train stations first and last in each city to prevent having to ride through the slower city traffic if you’re just traveling from one city to the other). The cost would probably be astronomical, but I dream of such great suburban connectivity, especially because my trip from New Haven to White Plains is currently a horror (and the I-Bus doesn’t help much).

Alon Levy October 18, 2010 - 7:47 pm

The line would connect to the Hudson Line and run to Grand Central, where there is ample capacity. The current peak frequency is 50 tph, and the tunnel is used 3+1.

A cross-county commuter line would be better, yes. But it needs to be done right. This means no streetcar-mode running anywhere except at the ends, and high service levels from the start. It’d have to run as an el between Tarrytown and Port Chester and then join the New Haven Line to Stamford.

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