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Mario Cuomo Bridge

(more than) Halfway Home To a New Tappan Zee Bridge

New NY Bridge Construction

The Tappan Zee Bridge is 60 years old this week, and all week long we are publishing stories about the “old” TZB and the New NY Bridge which is being built to replace it. Today we hear from Saint Peter’s University Political Science Professor Philip Mark Plotch, who literally wrote the book about the long journey to build the new bridge.

 The replacement Tappan Zee is the largest current infrastructure project in the country, and according to bridge officials, it is now past the halfway mark of construction.

St. Peters College Political Science Professor Philip Mark Plotch says New York wasted more than three decades trying to finalize plans for reducing congestion along 287, initially focusing on a much larger $16 billion “corridor” project which would have included highway improvements and new mass transit service from Suffern to Port Chester.  The author of  Politics Across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject, Plotch says the area’s leaders abandoned other viable options, squandered hundreds of millions of dollars, forfeited more than three billion dollars in federal funds, and missed out on important opportunities to improve the region’s transportation infrastructure.

The Gribble Beneath The Hudson

The Tappan Zee Bridge’s engineers aren’t making the same mistake that their predecessors did.  They are using concrete and steel rather than wood to support much of the bridge.

tzb_gribble201512Today, the mile-long causeway between the western shore and the existing bridge’s main span is supported by wooden piles. Sixty years ago,  since the Hudson River was highly polluted, the Thruway Authority decided it did not need to treat the wooden piles before they were placed into the river. In recent years, as the Hudson River has been cleaned up, a growing population of crustaceans migrating up the river has threatened to feast on the approximately 20,000 untreated wooden piles supporting that portion of the bridge.

Two types of crustaceans have been gnawing at wooden Hudson River piers. Gribbles are only a fraction of an inch big, they look like monsters from another planet. Toredos, a worm like creature, can grow several feet long and have triangular shaped teeth. They haven’t gotten as far north as Tarrytown and Nyack, but you can understand why a Thruway Authority engineer responsible for maintaining the Tappan Zee Bridge would have nightmares about these little creatures. — Philip Plotch

Plotch, a former manager of planning at the MTA, offers this list of five other things you probably didn’t know about the Tappan Zee Bridge:

  1. The foundations of the George Washington Bridge and the Bear Mountain Bridge sit on solid bedrock.  Most of the three mile-long Tappan Zee Bridge sits on top of soil, shells, and decaying timber, which themselves rest on sand, gravel, and clay.
  2. You can’t walk over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge or the Whitestone Bridge or the Throgs Neck Bridge.  But, starting in 2018, you will be able to walk over the Tappan Zee via a Shared Use Path (SUP) for pedestrians and cyclists.  Should you decide to jog the future SUP from Nyack to Tarrytown, it’s the equivalent of running a 5k.
  3. Although people have frequently claimed that the Tappan Zee Bridge was designed to last only 50 years, it is simply not true.
  4. To minimize opposition to a new bridge, the Cuomo administra­tion has successfully avoided discussions about how to pay for it.  Cuomo is the fourth governor to use that strategy since Governor George Pataki first decided to replace the bridge.
  5. The Thruway Authority’s leaders have wanted to double the width of the Tappan Zee Bridge since 1973.  Their wish will come true in 2018.

Saint Peter’s University Political Science Professor Philip Mark Plotch wrote Politics Across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject, which is available at Pickwick Books in Nyack and online at Rutgers University Press and Earlier this year, he presented some of the material from his book at a talk in the Nyack Library on Sept 24.

This article was first published on 9/21/2015.

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