With a name that implies that it was a dumb place to build a bridge, the Tappan Zee Bridge stretches across the Hudson at one of its widest points. Now more than 55 years old, it requires millions each year to maintain and will cost billions to replace. What possessed 1950’s politicians to put it there?
NPR’s Planet Money podcast devoted 20 minutes to the Tappan Zee Bridge without talking much about safety, nary a word about it’s popularity as a jumping off point for some, or it’s high replacement cost. They talked about why it is where it is.
The location of the TZB changed Rockland from a sleepy rural county to a suburban bedroom community. Planet Money says its location had everything to do with money — which NYS Governor Thomas Dewey needed to build that post-war wonder, the New York State Thruway.
Dewey was the governor — he was the boss of New York. You would think he could build the bridge wherever he wanted to. But the Port Authority had been granted a monopoly in the region. Only the Port Authority could build bridges or tunnels within a 25 mile radius of the Statue of Liberty.
The reason that Dewey puts this bridge in this ridiculous place is if he had put it in what seems like the rationale place a few miles south where the river is much narrower it would have been a Port Authority Bridge. The Port Authority would have gotten all of the money from the tolls and Dewey would not have had the money to build the [New York State Thruway]. He thought [the Thruway] was really important for the future of New York. Within the crazy set of rules that Dewey was operating under — this for him — was a rationale choice.
To hear the whole story, you can download the podcast from iTunes or visit the Planet Money page.
See also: Talkin’ Tappan Zee 8/1/2011, City Journal on the TZB, 6/6/2011