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Cornell to Cuomo: We Need TZ Bridge Details

Rockland County Chairwoman calls for 'objective studies'

It's a familiar sentiment: for to move forward, residents and local officials need more information.

It's also a dictum Rockland County Chairwoman Harriet Cornell exhorted to Governor Andrew Cuomo in a public letter she sent his way Monday.

"Governor Cuomo has made it clear that the replacement of the bridge is a top priority and that the differences of opinion concerning mass transit options should not paralyze those plans," Cornell said of the letter, addressing around whether to include bus and rail in the $5.2 billion project. 

"I believe the Governor can change the tone of the current debate by promising that he will urge involved agencies to plan open and objective studies of mass transit improvements for the future, as well committing his administration to seek funding for mass transit, in accordance with the study results," Cornell added.

Her full letter is below:

--

The Legislature of Rockland County
HARRIET D. CORNELL
Chairwoman of the Legislature

July 16, 2012


Hon. Andrew Cuomo
Governor of the State of New York
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Cuomo:

For good reason, you have made it crystal clear that an accelerated
replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge is your major infrastructure
priority. It is of importance to the entire Northeast and years have
gone into its planning.  The faster the bridge is replaced, the more the
constant costly rehabilitation can be avoided, the sooner motorists will
have a safer bridge to drive over and the sooner badly needed
construction jobs will be generated.  You rightly note that much
precious time would be consumed in working out the details of any
not-yet-matured mass transit solution and, most significantly, barely
enough resources can be mustered to build the replacement bridge.

As reported in the Journal News, you responded to calls for mass
transit inclusion in the project by acknowledging legitimate differences
of opinion warranting discussion, but making it clear that no amount of
gridlock, including the dissent of mass transit advocates, should
paralyze plans to replace the river crossing.

The concern of advocates, however, is understandable. Years of planning
pointed out the unmistakably heavy reliance of I-287 corridor travelers
on the auto and the need to build more modal choice into the work trip,
particularly between Rockland and Westchester. Before the advent of the
Cuomo administration, the state planning process had created
expectations of a blended highway/transit solution.  This was
predictable since residents had been following the mass transit debate
literally for years.

Many Rockland and Westchester residents and officials have been
intimately involved with the proposal for a new Hudson River crossing
since Governor Pataki announced in 1998 that there would be a new
bridge. All told there have been four governors involved. State agencies
led by the Department of Transportation sought to keep residents
informed and prevent the kind of surprises that have caused lengthy
lawsuits imperiling infrastructure projects in the past. Regular
meetings were held with the 18-member Rockland-Westchester TZ Task Force
appointed by the County Executives, of which I was a member.

Dialogue with the public was made an integral part of the process.
State agencies and consultants worked with all-volunteer Stakeholder
Working Groups (SAWGs) and utilized some of the best brain power on both
sides of the river.  Residents came to understand the challenges and
appreciated the way the professional staff sought to overcome them with
the least adverse impact on communities. One SAWG focused on Transit and
Traffic, originally considering commuter rail, light rail and bus rapid
transit.  When the draft EIS for the “new project” was released in
January, residents, commuters, elected officials and transportation
professionals were mystified and no doubt felt betrayed that mass
transit had been omitted.  Adding to their consternation have been
statements by your administration that any future mass transit planning
for the I-287 corridor should be left to Rockland and Westchester
counties. In the context of past strong NYSDOT leadership of the transit
element in corridor studies, this apparent abdication of State
responsibility to advance a mass transit solution for the region is
especially disheartening.

Governor Cuomo, you are a man of action and a strategic thinker. You
can change the tone of the current debate while sticking with your
accelerated bridge replacement plan.  I offer some suggestions similar
to those I expressed in my Comments on the DEIS.  You can endorse the
idea of a serious examination of mass transit improvements, even if they
are further down the line, by promising that immediately upon issuance
of the FHWA’s Record of Decision on the bridge replacement plan, you
will urge the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC), in
consultation with the two counties, NYSDOT and the Thruway Authority, to
resume a next stage of open, objective planning of mass transit
solutions for all or portions of the I-287 corridor. This should include
a public commitment by your administration to seek funding for
construction of mass transit in the future, in accordance with the study
results.

And, because there are competing and confusing claims on possible BRT
ridership and costs that have been previously compiled, as evidenced by
a recent troubling report by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, you
should also call upon NYMTC, while it seeks to organize a transit
corridor study, to review the most recent NYSDOT work on I-287 corridor
BRT and issue a report that clears the air. This stage-setting report
should acknowledge, as mass transit experts have asserted, that BRT in
this corridor can take many forms and can be introduced in stages with
many discrete elements.

I stand ready to assist you in moving this project forward.  Since 2005
I organized and held regular high-level Summits on various aspects of TZ
Bridge planning, giving state agencies the opportunity to present their
findings and respond to thoughtful questions. I would be pleased to
continue these Summits, as mass transit solutions are sought.

Your leadership by taking these decisive steps could settle the roiled
waters. It would affirm to New Yorkers that--as soon as the
environmental process on the replacement bridge is completed-- their
Governor will lead the effort to give mass transit a chance in the I-287
corridor.

Very truly yours,

Harriet Cornell
Chairwoman, Rockland County Legislature

gloria fleming July 19, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Can someone explain why traffic is being re-routed to the Tappan Zee bridge from the Alexander Hamilton bridge in New Jersey? Can that bridge withstand the extra traffic? We know that the anticipated 6 months will turn into a year or more. Is the slow traffic on the last 3 mornings from the extra cars and trucks? Is that what we can expect every morning now?
Maggie24 July 19, 2012 at 10:52 AM
Gloria, people are avoiding construction on the eastbound Cross Bronx (NYC's biggest parking lot), which screwsup the eastbound GWB. As to the TZ and the "Oh, don't worry you folks on the poor side of the bridge, we'll get around to you" BS emanating over mass transit, Harriet Cornell does an excellent job of politely parsing the problem, although I don't care for the solution. This bridge has been discussed for ages. Mass transit has always been the carrot at the end of the stick. Building a 20th Century Bridge a decade into a new millenium is Just. Plain. Stupid. and a waste of tax dollars. And to anyone who believes that adding further studies or offering lame promises about "we'll get to it" is going to bring mass transit to the Tappan Zee, I got a bridge to sell you. There will ALWAYS be something more pressing, and adding it later will multiply the costs exponentially. We've gotten along with this bridge this long. I say, no mass transit, no new bridge.

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