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Mario Cuomo Bridge

TZB 2: No Trains For You (or Buses, either)

Albany, October 11 — On Monday, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo requested fast track federal approval for the review of permits to build a replacement Tappan Zee Bridge. On Tuesday, that request was approved.

The original plan called for $16B of spending to replace the bridge and add mass transit options, a figure the Federal Highway Administration now estimates to be closer to $21 billion. The NYT and WNBC TV report that a revised plan will eliminate the proposed commuter rail from Rockland, a bus way to connect Westchester and Rockland and other proposed traffic improvements trimming the estimated cost to $5.2 billion. According to the NYT, NYS will finance construction with $3 billion in bonds against future toll collections with $2.2 billion paid for with loans from the US Department of Transportation and labor pension funds.

The details are still sketchy. And it’s unclear exactly what $5.2 billion buys you given that the previous estimate just to build the bridge was $8 billion. And if the plan proceeds without a mass transit addition, the expected traffic relief for commuters may be short lived. While advocating for planners’ desire to add bus and commuter rail, Tappan Zee Bridge/287 Corridor Project Director Michael Anderson told the Rockland County Legislature “we can’t build our way out of congestion.”

There’s no official guestimate of what this will do for bridge tolls, but in Oct 2010 the NYDOT’s Phil Ferguson offered a gloomy ballpark assessment about rebuilding the TZB without federal funding. ‘€œWe would only be able to bond $2 billion ‘€” far less than than the $8.3 billion needed to just build the bridge.’€ Ferguson’s scenario included, in his words, the “unrealistic” scenario of $15 tolls to cross the Hudson between Rockland and Westchester.

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A public meeting is scheduled to present the new plan on Oct 27 at the Palisades Center’s Adler Room from 4-9p.

The Tappan Zee Bridge was one of 14 projects selected by the Obama administration for expedited review. “The Tappan Zee Bridge project will replace a deficient bridge that is a critical link in the regional transportation network,” said a posting at WhiteHouse.gov. “While the project is an ambitious one and construction will not begin for several years, improved coordination amongst multiple federal agencies will reduce the time needed to proceed from a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to a Record of Decision, potentially reducing the project timeline by multiple years.”

Local leaders hailed the announcement, which the Times says Cuomo personally lobbied Obama’s Chief of Staff to make happen. “This is a shot in the arm for the project and a major step forward to restoring this key piece of our infrastructure and putting tens of thousands of New Yorkers back to work,” said NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Governor’s Office issued a press release touting the advantages of a massive construction project on the economy of New York State, saying the “Tappan Zee project has the potential to generate more jobs than any other infrastructure project in the nation.” Investments in transportation infrastructure provide an almost 5 to 1 return on economic investment, according to The Federal Highway Administration.

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“I applaud the federal government for expediting approval of this important project, which will create tens of thousands of jobs and protect thousands of commuters as they make their way across the Tappan Zee every day,” said NYS Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

“Investments of this size have the potential to transform the region’s economy, create jobs, and renew confidence in our state’s economic revitalization,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “I commend Governor Cuomo for taking the lead and reaching out to the White House so that we can move forward with the Tappan Zee project and ensure this vital transportation link.”

The Tappan Zee, which costs about $100 million each year to maintain, has an accident rate double the rest of the New York Thruway system. The bridge also has serious vulnerabilities to extreme events such as severe storms, ship collision and earthquakes. The loss of the Tappan Zee, or reduction in lanes or load limits, would over-tax alternate routes and have a catastrophic economic impact on the Lower Hudson Valley and Rockland, Westchester and Orange counties.

‘€œTransportation infrastructure is a cornerstone in maintaining safety standards for our residents and is integral to economic development  in New York State,’€ said NYS Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Orange). ‘€œI applaud the President, United States Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood and Governor Cuomo for recognizing the significance of the Tappan Zee Bridge and fast tracking its rebuilding which will not only revitalize our transportation infrastructure but create thousands of local jobs’€

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