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Mario Cuomo Bridge

As Others See Us: WSJ on TZB

by Dave Zornow

Last week, the Wall Street Journal weighed in on the value of a public/private partnership to build the proposed replacement  Tappan Zee Bridge, just north of the current bridge. The article provides a concise summary of the need and the status of the project.

Drivers and bus passengers have to put up with longer wait times to cross the aging span. Every day, there’s an average of three accidents on the bridge. Because there are no breakdown lanes, they cause big backups. As traffic increases, those jams will likely get worse. The 140,000 daily crossings could rise to 200,000 by 2030, according to the group studying a bridge replacement.

Figuring out how to improve the Tappan Zee is the easy part. The hard part is paying for it. And the state has a team of financiers scrambling to find the $8.3 billion needed to replace it as a car-only structure without adding bus lanes or a train line and more than $16 billion with them.

That’s where the private company may come in.

Unfortunately, what follows isn’t quite as enlightening or informative. There’s been a lot of talk about financing the bridge…but not much action. This might be because potential investors are waiting for the results of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The lingering recession may be a factor. Or maybe it’s just not a very good investment.

Unlike many of the other public/private investments, the TZB/I-287 Corridor Project is more than just a bridge. About half of the estimated $16 billion price tag is for two regional transit initiatives: a one seat train ride from Rockland to Grand Central and a bus service running the length of the I-287 corridor. Investors might be salivating about financing the bridge and collecting lucrative tolls from its operation but are less likely to be excited about backing two mass transit projects that will always run at a loss.

There are whispers from Albany that the new governor wants to throw the mass transit components under the bus — so to speak. Transportation experts think this is an unfortunate and short-sighted decision.

‘€œWe can’t build our way out of congestion,’€ says TZB Project Director Michael Anderson. Planners predict that when the ribbon is cut for a new Tappan Zee Bridge sometime in the next ten years, the eight planned lanes won’t have enough capacity to support all of the cars, trucks and buses that want to cross the Hudson. Without being able to offer people a viable mass transit option, building the bridge won’t improve river crossings in the Lower Hudson Valley.

With their world famous focus on finance credibility, it would have been enlightening if the WSJ had presented another view of the public/private argument informing us about the feasibility of a tantalizing deal about which politicians like to talk — but no investor has yet stepped forward to make happen. Meanwhile, the public continues its multi-year wait on how the new bridge will be financed.

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While we wait we are saddled with a bridge that costs more and more each year to maintain to safety standards. Costs and driver frustrations mount. Monies that are being spent on maintenance could be better spent on fixing the bridge and improving regional transit. Yes, it will be expensive to build a new bridge and expand mass transit. But in the long run, it will be more costly if we do not.

Source: WSJ, 2/15/2011
See Also: Can New York Bridge Tappan Zee Project’s Funding Gap?, tstc.org


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