Home Public Transit Policy The Tappan Zee as New York’s ARC mistake

The Tappan Zee as New York’s ARC mistake

by Benjamin Kabak

Plans drawn up in 2010 that included rail tracks across the Tappan Zee replacement will not see the light of day.

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.”

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BBnet3000 October 26, 2011 - 12:31 am

I still don’t understand how the bus lanes are so expensive. It doesn’t seem to correspond to one extra lane and 2 miles of Jersey Barriers to me….

Alex C October 26, 2011 - 1:14 am

Hey, kickbacks are expensive.
I wonder if this will end up like the George Washington Bridge and the lost-to-history early idea of extending the 8 Ave IND over it into NJ (the spur would’ve gone from the 174 St underground yard at the end of what is now the C). Decades from now people will wonder as to why rail was never run over the new Hudson River bridge.

Alon Levy October 26, 2011 - 1:46 am

The best solution here is still the ARC solution: cancel the damn thing and spend the money elsewhere. I recommend sending the cops who arrest peaceful protesters to early retirement and hiring non-assholes instead.

Adam October 26, 2011 - 7:03 am

ARC needed to sink anyway. Proposal was way too complicated as is. I’d be up to full upgrades of the North River tunnels before supporting ARC.

The Tappan Zee Bridge doesn’t need a rail component, if Monsey, West Nyack, Tallmans (yeah right), Piermont, Sparkill and all these towns want service by train, I’d work towards the New Jersey side first. Going via Westchester is a lot more agonizing of a commute personally.

UESider October 26, 2011 - 8:04 am

With rail lining each side of the Hudson, what points is the rail link connecting? Why is this so valuable?

Also, with regard to the bus lane and simply total lanes of traffic, I don’t recall the highway leading into the current crossing losing any lanes at the bridge but its been awhile since I’ve been up there.

Is the bridge a bottlenecl for the overall thruway?

Similarlyly, if there’s no bus lane on the approach, what good is a bus lane on the span? Why not just have dedicated express lanes a la HOV?

Not sure how these issues surface on the span itself, can someone shed some light?

pete October 26, 2011 - 12:36 pm

Nobody wants to have to take PATH or switch trains at Secaucus to get to Manhattan, and then take public transit on top of that. GCT is severely underused. Penn is overloaded. Rockland is also the end of the NY metro area/end of suburbia. Go up north and your now in farm country. Rockland is also on the edge of Bergan county, with all the rich people.

Jason October 26, 2011 - 1:26 pm

This. Going to Hoboken/Secaucus is not easy. Since the PJ line has been down, I’ve been taking the Hudson line into GCT everyday and its by far more convienent (and IMO pleasurable) then the NJ routing.

Chris October 26, 2011 - 4:25 pm

If people are dissatisfied with the commute from Rockland, it would be cheaper just to give them all some money to move to the east side of the Hudson. There’s tons of space to develop that already has access to a one-seat ride or can be connected to NYC much more cheaply. If the goal is to expand the number of people with a one-seat transit ride to Manhattan, a Tappan Zee transit link is a very inefficient way of going about it.

Max October 28, 2011 - 11:52 am

Chris, your first sentence is a joke right?

Frank B. October 26, 2011 - 8:10 am

Less transit options are always the less preferable option over building more transit. I had a feeling this project was going to be canceled, at least the transit portion anyway, since that’s always the first to go.

Is there anyway to actually KEEP the current Tappan Zee Bridge, and simply build a second one?

Certainly, we have to replace the span because it used inferior steel, but similar to an earlier idea I espoused, why don’t we try to sell the aging bridge to CSX, for exclusive rail use, and we get a couple of commuter tracks out of the deal as well? This would greatly increase freight rail traffic in and out of New York and Long Island, and would be both an economic and quality-of-life boon.

Could this worthless hunk of obsolete infrastructure perhaps be retrofitted somehow into something that provides new utility for New York? Is rail on the old bridge even possible, or is it too steep?

Scott E October 26, 2011 - 8:32 pm

Sounds like a good idea to me … at least one worth exploring. I wonder how the approaches would work out? I think that would be more of a challenge than the grade of the bridge itself, though admittedly I don’t know where the connecting railroads are on either side.

Bgriff October 26, 2011 - 8:20 am

I’m all for transit but just because a structure *can* have transit on it doesn’t mean it should. A Tappan Zee with rail would be nowhere as useful as various other rail infrastructure enhancements elsewhere in the city. Didn’t this blog itself point out that a possibly ridiculous amount was being spent repairing the Port Jervis line for a relatively small number of passengers? And now you want to spend a fortune putting rail on a bridge to serve exactly the same passenger base?

John-2 October 26, 2011 - 8:34 am

The idea behind the rail service would be a one-seat ride from Grand Central to Rockland County and the Hudson Valley, which would in turn take some of the traffic off of the Thruway from people working in New York who, as of now, either aren’t within range of west Hudson rail service or just don’t want to make the extra commute over to Hoboken for the Pot Jervis service.

The other income stream for the state would be the ability to run freight rail across the new bridge during off-hours, cutting the current route rail cars require to get across the Hudson from the mid-Atlantic states by 100 miles (making the even-more-expensive cross-harbor rail tunnel the Port Authority wants between Brooklyn and Bayonne unnecessary).

Pete October 26, 2011 - 8:38 am

Why do we need 2 new bridges? In case one falls down? How about build one new bridge that has two levels. At 82 feet wide (currently proposed), that’s plenty of room for traffic in both directions AND BRT in both directions. With the money saved by not having to build a second bridge, they could engineer the approaches and maybe spend a little on transit in the rest of the corridor.

Roy October 26, 2011 - 9:08 am

I ride the Metro-North from Tarrytown, and whilst I’m sure building transit into the new bridge from day one would generate some extra demand, I’m not convinced it would be worth the cost. It seems to me that from the number of the commuters currently driving across from Rockland or taking the existing Tappan Zee Express to Tarrytown Metro-North just wouldn’t justify building transit now. It’s not like I ever have to fight for a seat in the morning.

It’s a good thing that they’re going to leave space for future transit provision at least, and to be honest, haven’t they been saying it was unlikely they’d be doing more than that for a while now?

Eric F. October 26, 2011 - 9:22 am

Were there ridership projections for the transit portion? I’ll admit that I don’t know much about daily life among my suburban betters in Westchester/Rockland, but I’ve driven through the area many times. I find it hard to believe that an east-west tarnsit line would be all that useful for people. To me, I’d rather see a bridge with 6 lanes in each direction, with a couple turned over to supplemental toll payers/HOV/Bus during peak hours.

I’ll also continue the futile call for another crossing. It’s nuts to have so few Hudson crossings with the type of populations we have now. Why not extend the cross county parkway over the Hudson to the Palisades? Make that road 3 lanes in each direction, and it can support an approach to a simple 2 lane in each direction light vehicle only bridge.

Eric F. October 26, 2011 - 9:42 am

I think I’ll also comment on my own comment to note that the idiot politicians in Westchester who refused to add an HOV lane to 287 when the current reconstruction was being designed was a monumentally foolish decision. That HOV lane could have been the basis for some useful transit capacity.

John-2 October 26, 2011 - 12:07 pm

NIMBYs would likely kill any new crossing between the GWB and the Tappan Zee, in the same way NIMBYs down in the D.C. area have scuttled any ability to extend I-370 west from Gaithesburg in Montgomery County and connect it up with Virginia 28 in the Sterling-Dulles area of Virginia to take pressure off the Beltway’s Potomac crossing.

It would be nice if the state or the MTA could survey people west of the Hudson and see how many would give up their cars if a one-seat ride was available from Grand Central across the river, since the ability to avoid two-seat rides is something commuter rail passengers look for. At the very least, it would give officials a better idea of what effect a rail connection might have on traffic patters on both the new bridge and the GWB/Palisades Parkway.

Al D October 26, 2011 - 10:05 am

This will really be a shame if they cannot add, let’s say, 2 measly tracks to the bridge. I don’t know exactly what the connecting options are, but it seems that the most logical connections are to MNR’s Hudson and Pascack Valley Lines. There is a ROW that connects the Pascack Line to the Main Line that could be reactivated. I know there’ll be plenty of NIMBY’s to protest this, but if politicians want this, they’ll have to deal. This would somewhat correct Christie’s ARC cancellation and further justify the recent emergency repairs to the Port Jervis Line by providing a 1 seat ride to GCT and Penn (!) via Amtrak’s west side route which can/should be part of this. This route would likely see riders too from the northernmost NJ towns such as Mahwah, Ramsey and Woodcliff Lake for the 1 seat ride reason.

Al D October 26, 2011 - 10:08 am

Dare I ask the obvious question? The Tap is tolled, yeah? So take this toll $, or increase by $2 (cars), $4 (trucks, etc.) and put all this money to fund the rail construction? Isn’t that what the MTA does with its crossings? So the precendent is there.

jim October 26, 2011 - 10:50 am

The Tappan Zee bridge doesn’t need to be replaced. It’s fine as it stands. It isn’t falling down. It isn’t even rated structurally deficient. Its maintenance costs have been going up. It isn’t clear what they are, but I’ve seen estimates in the $130M to $150M per year range. A new bridge would cost much less to maintain (in the first few years, at least). So the Thruway Authority would save about $100M a year in maintenance by replacing the bridge.

Spending $8B to save $100M a year doesn’t compute.

pete October 26, 2011 - 12:40 pm

The Tappan Zee is drive over it while wearing a scuba tank bad.


Alon Levy October 26, 2011 - 10:39 pm

But it’s still structurally sound.

pete October 27, 2011 - 4:08 am

Thats a legal term. The bridge is nowhere near its original design strength. Rust holes through beams = scuba tank bad. If the bridge didn’t need the steel, it wouldn’t have been built with the “extra” steel in the first place.

Dan Connelly October 26, 2011 - 12:02 pm

Yet another example (San Francisco Central Subway another) of how Federal funding of local transportation projects does more harm than good. The goal becomes to spend as many federal dollars as quickly as possibly and not to produce the best utility for the dollars invested. The focus on transportation should be local, not on these port-fest federal transportation “stimulus” projects.

Alex C October 26, 2011 - 10:08 pm

As soon as private investment comes in you’ll have a point. The attitude definitely needs to change, but the funding is desperately needed.

Larry Littlefield October 26, 2011 - 12:17 pm

New York is broke. New Jersey too. And the construction industry rips us off and inflates the cost of infrastructure.

I don’t disagree that a mistake was made. I disagree about when it was made. It was made starting in the early 1990s, peaking in the years before and after 2000, and continuing to this day.

Larry Littlefield October 26, 2011 - 12:19 pm

“Dare I ask the obvious question? The Tap is tolled, yeah? So take this toll $, or increase by $2 (cars), $4 (trucks, etc.) and put all this money to fund the rail construction? Isn’t that what the MTA does with its crossings?”

New York State has already spent all the future tolls on the Tappan Zee, along with all of the past tolls on the Tappan Zee. That, I’m afraid, is the crux of the problem. Two words: Generation Greed.

francis October 26, 2011 - 6:28 pm

I agree, the best thing to do may be to kill the whole project completely.

pete October 27, 2011 - 4:10 am

I think it will be killed completely the moment someone sues since it violates its EIS/public hearings/gazillion planning commission approvals/red tape BS. Cuomo wants to kill the project but not take the flak. By making the project fail its redtape, he will come off unscathed and saying he tried to build it and it was the evil _______ that killed it.

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