In a few weeks time citizens should be gathering again to see the three design proposals it's down to for the new Tappan Zee Bridge.
This was the update from the latest public hearing at the Tarrytown Senior Center Wednesday night, emceed by shiny new bridge spokesperson plucked from News Channel 12, Brian Conybeare.
Tarrytown’s Joyce Lannert, former planning commissioner for the county, was, like many in the room, a longtime veteran of these bridge meetings.
“It’s sad after all this input and hundreds and thousands of dollars of money spent on these meetings for so many years, not one thing has changed,” she said. “I feel bad for Conybeare. He left a nice TV job for this.”
However the night did seem to offer more assurance to the citizens than previous hearings, more answers, and more forward momentum. One slide in the presentation illustrated how Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped in, took control of the bridge, and “ended the dysfunction.”
A few months ago, Cuomo signed a new request for federal funding after the project lost in the first round. The state is asking for 2.9 billion, the maximum allowed per project. The bids have arrived, all 750,000 pages of them in 70 boxes, and they are under the final stages of review for the “state-of-the-art, transit-ready” eight-lane, two-span bridge.
This bridge has been estimated of late to come with a $14 cash toll ($8.40 for commuters), which the Governor is apparently investigating ways to reduce. “We realize you shouldn’t bear the brunt of a regional travel asset,” Karen Rae, deputy transportation secretary, said.
“Good meeting,” commented Tarrytown Trustee Tom Butler at its close.
But the night was not without its detours...into tunnels.
Four different citizen commenters argued pro-tunnel, to which engineer Mark Roche said with much explanation surrounding this that it just “doesn’t make sense here."
So with tunnels off the table, and various means of rapid transit pushed somewhere into the future, there is the bridge (actually two of them) slowly coming into better focus.
The Bus Rapid Transit option, which went from a proposed 30-mile “corridor” to a 6.7 mile span from the Palisades Mall to Tarrytown, is now out of the picture since it requires more extensive roadwork to make these dedicated lanes than any budget can bear.
Comparisons were made by environmental expert Robert Conway to the scope of the World Trade Center rebuild, which he had also consulted on. He said the amount of comments received from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement phase of the project (over 3,000) likely surpassed that of the WTC project, as well as the 1,000-plus people who attended those hearings in Rockland and Westchester.
“We’ve heard your concerns and we’ve worked to address them,” said Conway.
Ways they will address them: Pile-driving can go from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, though it probably never will, and only as much within that as many environmental regulations dictate. There will be email alerts, online 24-7 real-time video monitoring, and many systems in place to reduce noise, emissions and dust.
“This project has the most strident controls of most any project probably in the country,” Conway said.
The benefit of the bridge verses something like the WTC, the panel said, is the water. Materials will move on barges and not on trucks through our neighborhoods. The occasional truck would come directly from thruway to bridge.
No to mass transit but, yes, transit-ready. There will be eight lanes total, four per span, each span with shoulders on each side and one side with a super-large shoulder big enough to accommodate future bus transit. The bridge price tag also includes $300 million to bear the weight of future rail.
To this Lannert objected, believing that the expense was too great for something that would never come to fruition. “This option of rail is a nonstarter. It won’t happen, so why pay for something that is totally unrealistic.”
But Roche said never say never. “You can’t predict the future,” he said, insisting that a bridge meant to last 150-plus years had to leave room for everything imaginable. Perhaps even a Sequeway path, he joked.
Tarrytown resident George Rainey said he sold lemonade to the builders of the first bridge, and that bridge was supposed to last 150 years. Perhaps he’d sell lemonade to workers again…
It was easier to picture the bridge this time around, with its pedestrian/bike path with “infamous belvederes,” as Rae described, for taking breaks along the long route.
The northern span would get built first, then the old bridge would indeed be torn down (sorry to Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner who's been fighting for it as a park) while the southern span goes up. There will be eight lanes in use before anything gets torn down, said Roche.
On the Tarrytown side, the bridge would move only 100 feet north on existing Thruway property, with a space between the spans on the water of 200 feet.
How long would the construction be? And how loud? Pile-driving won’t happen close to shore, as the bridge gets laid out on existing rocks at its edge in Tarrytown. In the water, they’ve been practicing a technique of vibrating the piles in rather than driving them to their full depth.
If testing (optimism here on securing the funding) begins February 2013, with work slated for June, the bridge could be done in 4.5 to 5.5 years, with much of it pre-fab and brought in on barges.
Suicide prevention was on Hudson Independent reporter Janie Rosman’s mind and she asked what precautions would be in place to stop what has become such a regular occurrence, one just last week. Could there be some kind of motion sensors to detect cars/drivers stopped in distress? There will be fences, Roche said, and constant video surveillance with someone showing up immediately whenever a car stopped.
When we do see images to choose from in a few weeks (or so) time, they will still only be estimates. The state will take proposals at 30 percent of the design, so the successful contractor then works closely with the community to design the 70 percent other details together.
Conybeare was collecting names for his database of local talent in related areas for a Blue Ribbon Design Panel, citizens across both counties who would have a say in what aesthetic elements are included, such as lighting fixtures, artwork, pedestrian park.
Finally, the Cuomo camp was fired up about new legislation the state approved, and which already exists in many other states, that has designers and contractors working together from the start rather than bridging gaps later.
“A game-changer,” Conybeare called it, which shifts the risks to the contractor rather than the state, saving money and time. “It is the first project ever in New York State under the new law that other states have had great success with.”
And who’s on the hook for unexpected expenses that arise? The contractor, the contractor, repeated the panel.
Several people, including Trustee Butler, asked what the state could do for Tarrytown. There used to be talk of connecting the north aqueduct trail to the south, but now the project falls short of the aqueduct. There will be room for the RiverWalk to connect under the bridge, but this won't be done by the bridge builders.
So, in the tradition of construction projects where the community most affected receives some kind of give-back, what’s in it for us?
Well, noted one citizen to someone sitting next to him, this isn’t a private project. We’re paying for it and what we're getting is a bridge.
Like it or not, it’s just a bridge.
“I appreciate all the thought that’s gone into this, the engineers, all the money, all my money, but it seems as if this has been a foregone conclusion,” said Tarrytown resident (and tunnel supporter) Tobin Kent.
Bridge headquarters are based now in a 303 South Broadway office, online at newnybridge.com, by phone at 855-TZ-Bridge, and even Twitter @NewNYBridge.