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Mario Cuomo Bridge

Tappan Zee Meetings: A Study Guide

Newsreel footage of how the Tappan Zee Bridge looked on opening day in Dec 1955.

by Dave Zornow

If you are planning on attending today’s Tappan Zee Bridge information session in Rockland, here’s a list of questions you might want to ask — and a little background on why you want to ask them

You can hear what Secretary to the Governor, Larry Schwartz and Tom Madison, Executive Director of the Thruway Authority has to say tonight at 7p at SUNY Rockland Community College on Thurs Aug 2.

If you get the opportunity to ask a question, what should you say? Here are a few suggestions.

  • The question, “Where’s our mass transit?” would appear to be moot after last month’s quiet announcement that Tappan Zee Express buses will run in dedicated lanes during rush hour (Cuomo OK’s Bus Transit For New TZB (Sort of), 7/3/2012). Although this will speed TZx trips across the bridge, the bus service that delivers commuters to Metro North will still compete with traffic on roads throughout the rest of Rockland and Westchester. Mass transit experts will tell you that this isn’t even half a loaf — but it’s a good start. If you are looking for good questions to ask about Mass Transit, consider “Can Tappan Zee Express priority be extended beyond weekday rush hours? How about weekends, too?” or “Can we start planning for a full BRT that builds on the initial TZx pilot project?”
  • “How much will this all cost?” The governor hasn’t told us where he’s going to get $5-6 billion to build a new bridge. Don’t worry, he will find someone to loan us the money. The better question is,”What will the new TZB toll cost?” The smart money says it’s going to be about $16 — but so far, Thruway planners have only said “stay tuned” for the answer. The average person can’t to relate to $5-6 billion in total costs but $16 to cross the new TZB is sure to get their attention.
  • “When will sturgeon get the vote?” Riverkeeper has expressed concerns that bridge construction will kill off the Atlantic Sturgeon population in the Hudson. ‘€œThe current project would essentially create a massive construction site in the middle of the Hudson River for years, destroying vital habitat for endangered species,’€ said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director at Riverkeeper.
  • “So, did you make up any other numbers we should know about?” You might have missed this piece of Pulitzer-worthy journalism — because none of our local daily news sources broke it, much less covered it. The governor’s financial justification for eliminating Bus Rapid Transit from the Tappan Zee Bridge river crossing project used inflated estimates that were incorrectly based on outdated analyses — but that reached politically expeditious conclusions. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign discovered the error after submitting a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request which found that the DOT’s $4.5 billion Bus Rapid Transit estimate was based on a previous more elaborate plan which the governor abandoned last October. The numbers were wrong, which means the rationale was wrong and the administration’s attack on pro-mass-transit-forces was more political than financial. We shouldn’t be surprised — and it’s unlikely we would be in a significantly different place today if a better estimate had been used. You can’t really blame the governor for playing fast and loose with numbers while touting his vision of the future: it’s what politicians do. Some might even call that leadership.

But it raises a question about what role the local news sources should be playing in this process. Why did regional outlets devote 40 stories to the announcement last week that News 12 anchor Brian Conybeare was hired by the governor’s office to be a “Special Advisor for the Tappan Zee Bridge,” but less than a handful of articles about a FOIL discovery that a major decision about a huge public works project was based on made-up numbers? We owe a tip of the hat to the TSTC who made the discovery and StreetsBlogNYC who wrote about it in depth. And a wag of the finger to those daily news outlets owned by Gannett, AOL and Cablevision.

  • “When is this likely to begin?” In 4Q 2011, all of the presentations from the Thruway Authority said ground breaking would occur in the Fall of 2012. A recent news report cited the new start date as “before the end of the year.” As the days grow shorter and Summer winds down, the end of the year would seem to be getting closer and closer.

When the pile driving is done and the ribbons have been cut, all of these questions will be long forgotten. Except, of course, the big new Tappan Zee Bridge toll. It’s ironic that New York’s Governor, accused by his critics of being anti-mass transit, may be remembered as the guy who did the most in the long run to promote mass transit by pulling people out of their cars by their wallets.

See also:

Photo: Newsreel image from opening of Tappan Zee Bridge in December 1955

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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