Eastbound And Westbound…Are We Being Double Crossed?

Proposed Tappan Zee BridgesA few questions about the New NY Bridges:
1. Will they improve traffic flow?
The New NY Bridges double the joke of being Bridges to Nowhere.  They don’t offer any improvement to traffic flow in the region.

Their chief proponent, Governor Andrew Cuomo, says,  “They are an affordable segment of the I-287 corridor improvement.”  Even if the sun always shines and there is never a blizzard or hurricane, the fast moving traffic on the 8+ lanes of the bridges will run into the immediate blockage of the reduced lanes on the connecting roads.  Of course, when there is a blizzard or other bad weather, traffic will come to a halt.

2.  Will they stand up under all conceivable conditions?
The New NY Bridges share visual design details with the new bridge under construction in      San Francisco, but San Francisco has a few advantages.  It has one supporting tower resting on bedrock, not four supporting towers resting on goodness knows what.  San Francisco is basically a steel structure, not precast concrete, and is flexible and extendable.  Precast concrete is rigid and very heavy.

3. Can we afford them?
The present Tappan Zee Bridge, which will be at least 60 years old when retired, was built in 4 years for $720 million 2014 dollars, or $32 million per lane mile.  The proposed New NY Bridges will cost $200 million per lane mile, if they stay on budget, and will take at least 5.5 years if they stay on schedule.  San Francisco, our role model, is well beyond $300 million per lane mile and well beyond schedule.

4. Will they benefit the environment? Or offer environmental justice?
The lack of any rail component will mean the continued waste and burning of at least 10,000 gallons of fuel every day, as heavy freight trains detour 250 miles to cross the Hudson.  At least 50,000 gallons of fuel will be wasted for lack of truck-on-train service where trucks can cross the river, engines off.   Runoff from the bridges (salt and traffic detritus) will flow unabated into the river.  The New NY Bridges will provide no reduction in traffic and air pollution through minority communities presently seriously afflicted by the failure to complete I-287 with service to Long Island.  The construction process will disturb river silts through pile driving and dredging, and this PCB-containing disturbance will be dispersed over many miles of river on each tidal cycle.  The D.E.C. permit for the project was written by an agency whose mission is “to conserve, improve, and protect New York’s natural resources and environment … and to achieve this mission through the simultaneous pursuit of environmental quality, public health, economic prosperity, and social well-being including environmental justice and the empowerment of individuals to participate in environmental decisions that affect their lives.”  This permit fails to address any of the human problems while it endeavors to prevent the death of more than four sturgeon.

5. Will the project stay on budget and on schedule?
Additional test borings are planned to start soon.  When these borings reveal the well known fact that the bedrock west of the shipping channel and present main span is rapidly descending to at least 1,400 feet below sea level in a seismically active area, will the bids be adjusted to cover the additional costs from “new geo-technicals”?  As we have observed extreme weather events in recent years, and as the contract allows weather-permitted delays, will it be possible to stay on schedule if these weather events are becoming more extreme and more frequent?  If the fifth dead sturgeon or additional turbidity is observed during the construction process, will there be “stop work orders” brought by the responsible environmental organizations?  Will there be cash flow delays as the Thruway is already beyond its bonding authority, and the TIFIA loan is still in question?

6. Will the recreational aspects of the bridges be affordable or enjoyable?
This will be the only bridge across the Hudson with a pedestrian path on the North   side. The North is shady, windy, and does not have the spectacular views of New York City and the Palisades.  The recreational path will cost as much or more as a traffic lane, and may be sacrificed at some time if additional lanes or mass transit are required.  Is $200 million cost effective when recreational travel across the River, by reviving the Nyack-Tarrytown ferry, has been quoted at one-tenth the price?

7. Will the Villages and residential neighbors endure increased suffering?
Construction for at least 5.5 years and decades of operation will be extremely damaging on both sides of the river, and will interfere with the enjoyment of the river.   The new alignment proposed brings the bridges within only a few feet of a major residential community in Tarrytown, and will increase the footprint significantly in South Nyack.  The noise of construction and operation and aggressive night lighting will affect multiple communities on both sides of the Hudson.  Air quality will not be improved.  Any increase in footprint will mean additional reduction in the tax base of the Villages.  Continued use of the present footprint and Thruway right of way will continue the loss of revenue to the Villages.

8. Has the public participated in the planning of this project?
The 400-plus public outreach meetings have devoted most of their time to the rejected study of the entire I-287 corridor and meaningful mass transit.  Governor Cuomo has thrown the results of all of this public devotion out of the project, and any public participation in the “fast track” bridges project has been limited to 2-minute sound bytes.  The public elected not to participate in the D.E.C. permit hearings.  No one except myself and the two environmental organizations, who will be responsible to blow the whistle when the fifth sturgeon floats up, were in the audience and
offered any comments.

So, there are a lot of problems with the New NY Bridges.  One of the Hudson Valley’s most respected international scientists wrote to me as follows: “I do think it will probably end in a debacle.  Read today’s news about the contract.  At some time in this project an expensive extra will emerge that needs to be done and each side will claim that the other is responsible since the contract (clearly) states what each one will claim.  This will end in a lawsuit, stop construction while the old bridge will deteriorate beyond repair, the resulting penalty payments for delays by the contractor and payments overdue by the State will further complicate the lawsuit that could go on forever while traffic across the Hudson slowly is cut back due to reduced capacity of the old bridge.  By then we will have another Governor who will blame Cuomo for the whole thing while everyone else suffers.”

Many of the other politicians now endorsing this project will also be gone during the life of the project, and all will be gone while the region suffers if the bridges are built. What a legacy.

[blockquote class=blue]Alexander Saunders has been advocating the Tappan Long Island road and rail tunnel since the first hearing on the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement held in Nyack in April, 2000.[/blockquote]

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