Representatives from governor Andrew Cuomo's office and experts working on studies about held the first of four public meetings this week Wednesday morning in White Plains.
Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz and Executive Director of the New York State Thruway Authority Tom Madison, as well as others, spoke at Berkeley College during an event sponsored by the Business Council of Westchester.
Madison spoke about the three options for what to do with the Tappan Zee Bridge: updating the current bridge, building a new county transit system or building a new bridge. He said to fix the current bridge, it would cost about three to four billion dollars over the next 20 years.
“Even, still, with all of those investments over 10 to 20 years, the bridge would remain the same structure that it is today, ostensibly—[with] no appreciable safety improvements, absolutely no changes to the capacity or anything to reduce to congestion,” Madison said. “We still wouldn’t have the ability for future transit options.”
The cost for building a new county transit system just isn’t feasible, Madison said, so that leaves the third option. He said they could spend about $5 billion now to build a state-of-the-art bridge, “a transit-ready structure that on the day that it opens will be able to handle enhanced express bus service, that will deal with the potential for heavy commuter rail, for example, or a bus rapid transit system.”
The estimated time for construction of a new bridge would be four to five years. Madison said a new span would increase the current one from seven lanes to eight, add wide shoulders and include dedicated lanes for emergency vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Madison added the new bridge would reduce congestion, be safer, have faster service for bus commuters and create or sustain about 45,000 jobs in the Hudson Valley. He didn’t have a study on how many of the jobs would be sustained once the bridge was built.
Schwartz spoke about the process of getting the new bridge built, noting that the state develops the basic requirements for the new crossing. He said top engineering and construction firms then team up to compete for the contract. The winning bid designs and builds the new bridge, which is a change from the past when separate groups controlled the design and construction.
“The burden is going to be put on the contractor, the bidder, because now they’re not just building the project, they’re designing and building the project," Schwarts said. "They’re going to be liable, they’re going to be on the hook for any cost overruns, any delays to the project, unless some act of god or act of mother nature would come into this that nobody could’ve foreseen and nobody could’ve controlled or stop.”
Schwartz also announced the state has set up a toll-free hotline (1-855-TZBRIDGE) for those who have questions about the project, and set up a website (NewNYBridge.com) for those seeking information on the project. He said the state wants to be as open and transparent as possible with the project, and said they are going to set up the New NY Bridge Community Action Team.
The team will be set up once a decision is made on the type of bridge to be built, and who is going to build it. The team will work with community through construction, keep residents informed and aware and continuing to hold public meetings in various communities.
Brian Conybeare, a former News 12 anchor who was recently named a special advisor for the project by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, hosted the event, and said they could hold as many as 100 public meetings on the project.
The action team will also have offices in the Rockland and Westchester areas.
“We are committed to being here, boots on the ground, working with our communities, working with all the stakeholders throughout the entire construction process,” Schwartz said. “There’s going to be many questions, there’ll be many concerns, I’m sure there will be some complaints, whether it’s noise, dust, security, staging, whatever you can think of, it will come up.”
Also discussed at the meeting was the possibility of using a bus rapid transit system, which is essentially a train that drives on tracks on roads. This way, it is faster than a regular bus as it can’t get stuck in traffic. A study last year looked into building a bus rapid transit system from Rockland to Westchester that would go over the bridge. The system would cost $4.6 billion if the tracks go in the center of the highway, with costs needed to split the highway ($3.1 billion), build in Rockland ($0.4 billion) and in Westchester ($1.1 billion). It would cost $5.1 billion if the tracks go to the side of the highway, with costs needed to improve the highway ($1 billion), build in Rockland ($2.4 billion) and in Westchester ($1.7 billion).
I was also said that the Final Environmental Impact Statement will be released next week.
Two similar meetings will be held in Rockland on Thursday, with one at 8:30 a.m. at Dominican College in Orangetown and the other at Rockland Community College at 6 p.m.