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Mario Cuomo Bridge

Cuomo OK’s Bus Transit For New TZB (Sort of)

by Dave Zornow

It’s been a big point of contention between the people in the Lower Hudson Valley and the Governor of New York: Andrew Cuomo’s controversial decision to remove mass transit as a component of the new Tappan Zee Bridge. However, with last week’s announcement that an existing bus service will get its own dedicated rush hour lane, it would seem that this disagreement is done. Everyone’s a winner — the governor gets public support for his project, the people get priority mass transit and everyone joins hands and sings songs of Kumbaya as they board the speedy mass transit option on the first day of the TZB II service.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that it isn’t that simple and that everyone isn’t so happy.

“The Tri-State Transportation Campaign applauds the state’s effort to be more accountable to the public process by responding to the thousands of pleas for transit on the new bridge,” said TSTC director Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool. Although TSTC is happy to hear that Rockland’s Tappan Zee Express buses will run in the “emergency access lane” of the new bridge during rush hour, the group wants the NYS Department of Transportation to expand this plan to give priority to non-rush hour service, too. It’s also less than what the Transportation Planner had ordered: the original plan, nine years in the making, envisaged a complete BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) running the full length of the I-287 corridor as well as CRT (Commuter Rail Transit) from Suffern to Grand Central. In October 2011, Cuomo deleted rail and bus service and planned 287 road improvements to redefine the project as beginning and ending with a new bridge.

Still, there’s something about the governor’s approach that would make the hidden Machiavelli in every economist happy. There’s a carrot for commuters with the promise of a faster, unfettered trip over the bridge on the Tappan Zee Express, the Rockland County bus system whose arrivals and departures are coordinated with the Tarrytown Metro North station. The stick is a significantly higher bridge toll — in the range of $16 — which will likely encourage many people to leave their cars home and take the bus across the Hudson to the train.

“There is congestion at other points on 287, from Suffern to Port Chester.  Lanes on the bridge can help, but they’re an incomplete solution,” adds Cap’n Transit, a transportation blogger who frequently writes about the TZB. “If the goal is to make buses competitive with driving, adding bridge lanes alone probably won’t be enough.”  He also points out that you can get this result withoout having to spend $5.2 billion to build a bridge — all you need to do is to raise tolls on the current bridge. “All that’s needed is the political will,” he adds.

The idea of running the TZx bus in a dedicated lane on the Tappan Zee Bridge was was first mentioned as part of Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef’s testimony at the Hudson River Crossing Draft Environmental Impact Statement hearings last February. “So why not plan now for our TZx buses by using the emergency access lanes on the new bridge as bus lanes, and by connecting the emergency lanes to the travel lanes at the landings? It’s feasible and it makes sense, and will at least give us one immediate way to get people out of cars and to move people faster,” Vanderhoef said.

Coincidentally — maybe — reports that the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) will vote on July 10 on including TZB II in the region’s long-range transportation plan. Both Vanderhoef and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino are members of that group and can veto an endorsement — something that is less likely to happen now that Rockland’s Chief Exec’s suggestion has been incorporated into Cuomo’s Tappan Zee plans. Vanderhoef spokesperson Ron Levine says the state DOT has “agreed to the concept [of running the TZx on the new TZB] but no specific details have been sent to us.”

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Photo Credit: ©Alison Perry 2012


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