On August 16, 2012, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino, Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell announced their support for the Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing project based on a framework developed in conjunction with Gov. Andrew Cuomo that addresses the need for mass transit on the bridge when it is built and in the future.
Under the terms of the framework:
- Dedicated bus lanes will be incorporated on the new bridge from the start.
- The bridge will be constructed with mass transit capacity compatible with a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and Commuter Rail Transit.
- A Regional Transit Task Force will be created to study costs and options for regional transit, including commuter rail and a BRT system on the bridge and key portions of the Westchester-Rockland corridor.
- The Task Force will issue recommendations in one year, with a plan for short-term steps that can be considered for immediate commencement, as well as long-term plans for transit solutions.
- Incentives will be created for contractors that could be used to reinvest in regional mass transit or to moderate impact on toll-payers.
As a result of agreement on this framework, the three county executives joined other regional leaders on August 20, 2012 at a meeting of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) to vote yes to include the new Tappan Zee Bridge project in the region’s long-range transportation plan. The unanimous vote qualifies the project for federal funds. Read the press release.
This action followed years of planning activity on the future of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Built in 1955, the 3.1-mile Tappan Zee Bridge (TZB) is now in the middle of a heavily trafficked 30-mile long east-west corridor that stretches between Suffern, in Rockland County, and Port Chester, in Westchester County. When constructed, the TZB handled 18,000 vehicles a day. Due to the dramatic growth in population and employment throughout the corridor, traffic today averages 135,000 vehicles a day – 120% of the bridge’s design capacity. In addition to the problem of congestion, the bridge is also showing serious structural problems. While the bridge is still safe for travel, it requires increasing maintenance just to keep it in its current state. In addition, the bridge only has 3.5 travel lanes in each direction, with a moving barricade in the middle. It has no shoulders and no capacity for a rapid-transit system.
Replacing the bridge and introducing transit to the corridor
Over the past 25 years, the issue of congestion across the TZB, and throughout the I-287 corridor more broadly, has been studied eight times, not counting the current review process. In 2000, Metro North Railroad (MNR) and the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA), in cooperation with the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), formed a team to formally study the replacement of the bridge and the addition of mass-transit to the corridor as well as prepare the necessary environmental studies for both projects. To help move the study process forward and increase the public’s input into the project, the County Executives of Rockland and Westchester formed the Tappan Zee Futures Task Force in 2005. Around the same time, NYSDOT assumed leadership of the project team to help centralize decision-making and accountability.
The three project plan steps
In January 2008, the project was officially split into three steps to help speed decision making.
- The first step was the selection of the preferred alternative for mass-transit, which was announced as full corridor Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the option of later adding over a new bridge commuter rail from Rockland County that connects to NYC’s Grand Central Station. At the same time, the study team announced that the bridge would be replaced, rather than rehabilitated.
- The second step is completing the environmental review of the construction of the new bridge.
- When that is completed, the team will begin the third step which is to engineer the new span and complete a detailed environmental review of the new transit system, including impacts at the station level.
One study ends and a new one begins
On October 12, 2011, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transportation Administration effectively ended the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Corridor Project study which had been underway since December 2002. A Notice of Intent to rescind the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Corridor Project was issued by the federal agencies concluding the environmental review process for the combined study of bridge, highway and transit along the 30-mile I-287 corridor between Port Chester in Westchester County and Hillburn in Rockland County. On that same date in October, FHWA published a new Notice of Intent for the Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing Project to examine alternatives for an improved Hudson River crossing between Rockland and Westchester Counties.
The initiative for the reduction in project scope is described in the October 2011 Scoping Information Packet in this way: “while advancing financial analysis, 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.”
Concurrent with the change in project scope, the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge was selected on the federal level as one of 14 projects across the United States that are to be fast-tracked through the federal approval process so as to deliver economic benefits as soon as possible.
Commenting on these actions, Westchester County Executive Robert P Astorino said, “I have long advocated for the state to make the Tappan Zee Bridge’s replacement a top priority and was encouraged when federal and state officials announced earlier this month they were going to move the project forward. This project requires a major investment, and if we are going to commit to rebuilding the bridge, our efforts must produce practical solutions, not only to the problems of today, but to the challenges we will face in the future. The reality is, a new bridge—without a mass transit component—would already be at capacity on the day of its opening.” Read the full statement
The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing Project was released by New York State on July 27, 2012. The EIS can be viewed or downloaded at the project website – www.newnybridge.com.
The final EIS includes the state’s responses to all comments that were made on the draft EIS by the public, interested groups and government agencies. A public hearing was held on the draft EIS in Westchester County on March 1, 2012. The public comment period ended March 30, 2012. Westchester County submitted comments on the draft EIS in a letter dated March 30, 2012. Read the County’s comments.
Left out of the current project and of long-range importance to Westchester County residents and businesses was the decision made in September 2008 by the then-state project team that a Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) would be constructed along the I-287 corridor. The new BRT system was expected to be operational about the time that a new bridge would open, creating the first east-west rapid transit system in the county. Not only would the transit system help relieve congestion, it would provide linkages between the county’s three existing north-south rail systems and provide opportunities for new transit-oriented development (TOD).
A comprehensive overview of the progress of the now-ended project can be found in this presentation made by NYSDOT to the Westchester Rockland Tappan Zee Futures Task Force on October 14, 2010. View the presentation