No-Transit Tappan Zee Controversy Continues

The Tappan Zee Bridge has carried the New York Thruway across the Hudson River for 57 years.  Designed for 100,000 vehicles per day, it now carries 138,000, has no breakdown lanes, and fails to meet earthquake standards.  Everybody agrees that it’s obsolete, and there are plans afoot to build a new bridge or two, with a total of 15 lanes instead of the current 7.  Nobody knows how to pay for it; tolls, currently $4.75 for a car round-trip (using E-ZPass), would be bound to increase.

The bridge also has no provision for mass transit; nobody was thinking of anything but vehicles back in the 1950s.  There is also no plan for mass transit on the new bridge.  Why?  Nobody knows how to pay for it, either.  The best that can be said for the replacement plans is that they won’t preclude transit—which means that space will be left for a future transit bridge, should it eventually become feasible. The new bridge project has been supported by New York Governor Cuomo, who has however not pushed for transit, either bus or rail, on the new bridge.  The controversy continues, as reported by Peter Applebome in The New York Times  (June 27).  Originally, plans included a public-transportation corridor including bus-only lanes, and a possible connection to the Metro-North rail network.  The regional chapter of the American Planning Association took exception to the no-transit plan, saying in a March letter, “We believe a project design so as ‘not to preclude’ transit realistically does have the effect of precluding transit.”  Meanwhile, political gridlock in Washington has shut off that source of funding: the Thruway Authority’s bond ratings have been downgraded, partly because of the Tappan Zee liabilities, and speculation is that, once the bridge is completed, the Thruway will have an incentive to maximize auto traffic to derive maximum toll revenues to pay off the bonds.  This does not exactly make the bridge proponents unbiased evaluators of the need for transit.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that a balanced transportation system is essential to the region, and that additional highway capacity should be planned only in conjuction with plans for mass-transit capabiilities.