Please don't underestimate the impact the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge will have on the Westchester side of the river. This, and the desire for mass transit, was the common plea of many citizens, experts and public officials who took to the microphone at last night's public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) phase of the Crossing Project. Along with a fair amount of disappointment.
It's a project that several said they felt was being "railroaded through," an interesting word choice considering rail is the furthest item from the table.
Doors opened at 4 p.m. in the ballroom, a massive hall ringed with poster board showcasing the major points of the 23-chapter document released on January 19. The 45-day comment period comes to a close on March 15, which several speakers said was too short for such an undertaking.
People could either express their opinions on this night in the hearing room for two minutes or less (about 60 people did this), go privately to record with a court reporter for as long as they liked (over 40 did this), email (email@example.com), fax (845/454-7443) or mail (Project Director Michael Anderson at NYS Dept of Transportation, 4 Burnett Boulevard, Poughkeepsie, NY 12603, postmarked by March 15). Turnout overall was in the hundreds, with an estimated 400 people coming to the first portion of the evening which ran late into the second.
These people hailed from the Quay neighborhood north of the bridge (), the Irving neighborhood south (); from Ulster County to Hastings, cyclists to realtors.
Gary Prophet, the VP of Empire State Passengers Association, voiced an opinion we heard many politicians agree on in our latest , on how easy and affordable an option increased rapid bus transit could be. "I can change that just by making a few lines on some of those maps in the other room," he said.
David McKay Wilson of the Bike Walk Alliance of Westchester and Putnam Counties spoke on behalf of pedestrians and cyclists when he asked for the planners to reconsider demolishing the old bridge, as . "Preserve it and make it a preserve," he said.
In the break between sessions, Wanda Dunlap, of the Broadview Civic Association in Greenburgh, talked about how much the area surrounding Route 119 has changed since she moved here 52 years ago. Big business comes but small businesses go; houses get devalued yet taxes go up; where there were once trees there are now cars. "Don't tell me no more traffic is going to come down 119." Her family moved here, to the suburbs, she said, for the green in Greenburgh, now it's turning into "Brownburgh."
Close to 8 p.m. Anderson outlined the project in quick Powerpoint for the second time that evening. The bridge was built in 1955 to accomodate 18,000 vehicles a day. Now there are 138,000 vehicles a day going over that bridge, an "ever-increasing traffic volume that continues to deteriorate the bridge." From 2001 to 2009, the study showed there were 2,700 accidents on the bridge, more than twice the average for the rest of the thruway.
Roger Schrieber, of Hastings, is one such commuter who goes over the bridge twice daily. He recalled the toll of $1 only a decade ago and called it a "scary bridge" to drive over but "beautiful."
Others reminded the officials of the way mass transit was once promised as a future option for the George Washington Bridge, which has become something of a gridlock joke. If it doesn't happen now, they said, it won't happen.
Gene Chiccarelli said he passed signs on the way to this meeting warning of heavy delays on the TZB. "This is the legacy we are going to leave our kids?" he asked. The crippling commutes we are only exacerbating with a new expanded bridge is "short-changing our children. It's the folly of our generation."
And let's not forget the people who live adjacent, from Quay to Irving, said Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, who spoke towards the end of the evening as the room dwindled down, having come back from Albany that day. "Don't ignore the people who live there," he said. "These are your hosts."
When the comment period closes, it will be onto the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) by July 2012 and a Record of Division in August. Already, there are boats positioned at various points under the bridge, marking the spots where crews are boring holes deep into the soil to investigate the content of what's down there. This work (cost in the several millions), said Anderson, is necessary to complete the design plans and the FEIS.
Anderson was eager to ask the crowd to weigh in on two plans presented between a cable-stayed bridge or one with a central arch (like they originally designed the bridge to be in the 1950s but no contractor bidded for). Only one person gave his opinion in the midst of all the dissent for any design: cables.