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Mass Transit Remains Centerpiece of New Tappan Zee Bridge Debate

Dozens of Rocklanders speak out at Tuesday evening public hearing

Hundreds of Rockland residents filled the Palisades Center's community rooms Tuesday night to discuss the new, and no two were the same. 

The hosted South Nyack residents concerned about their properties and miffed local politicians; construction workers vehemently campaigning for a quick start and commuters wary of toll hikes; state officials sounding off on the project's urgency and Riverkeeper employees concerned about endangered Hudson River fish.

But at the center of four-hour long meeting was the same core issue as meetings past: mass transit, or lack thereof on the proposed new bridge.

The new crossing, which is expected to be complete by 2017 for an estimated $5.2 billion, is not slated to house rail or bus transit. The bridge will include a bike and pedestrian lane, however, and will be equipped to incorporate rail at a possible future date. 

Construction could begin this year, officials said, and the the span will likely be selected by this fall, said Kristine Edwards of the New York State Department of Transportation.

Installing rail would up the total cost to around $16 billion, but dedicated bus lanes and infrastructure would be significantly cheaper—leading many residents in attendance to champion the dictum that "a crossing without public transport would be obsolete from day one," as one Riverkeeper employees said.

By the time several residents had a chance to sound off, however, the night was winding down; ealier chunks of time were dedicated to state officials and local lawmakers.

John Lipscomb, a Piermont resident, wasn't pleased with the schedule.

"Maybe next time [at Westchester's Thursday meeting] elected officials can speak after residents," he said. "Then they can actually hear what people who voted for them have to say."

Ross Pepe, head of the Construction Industry Council, spoke in favor of building the proposed span swiftly, noting it will act as a stimulus to bring mass transit to the region.

"Build what we can afford now, but prepare for the future," he said. Pepe's statements were met with applause from a gaggle of construction workers that stood in the back of the room.

Jan Degenshein, chair of the Rockland business association and a 50-plus year resident of the Nyacks, partially echoed Pepe's setiments, but expressed anxiety about the possible local impacts.

"Tread lightly," he said to the panel of New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) officials, and New York State Thruway (NYST) officials, that sat at the head of the room.

Currently, the state has a number of barges in the bridge's shadow collecting soil samples; this reseach will give way to a test pile project in April, where seven sample piles will be driven hundreds off feet into the Hudson River's floor, and their ability to support weight tested.

NYSDOT officials fielded residents' questions in an adjacent room with posterboard that spotlighted each stage of the construction process. Vicki Hope—a member of Arup, a firm of consulting engineers—sounded off on the bridge's design-build component. The design-build element means the state will award a single constract to a joint engineering and construction team.

"It's a one-stop shop," Hope said, noting a single constract makes this cheaper and quicker. "They hash things out among themselves—they don't approach [the state] with problems."

Hope added the design-build team will stick to a specific budget put forth by the state. The project will be financed by taxpayers.

Residents have until March 15 to submit public comments regarding the DEIS, .

(To send a comment: email tzbsite@dot.state.ny.us, fax (845) 454-7443 or mail Michael P. Anderson, Project Director, New York State Dept. of Transportation, 4 Burnett Boulevard, Poughkeepsie, New York 12603.)

A Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is then set to address public comments, and be released in July 2012. Following that, the Federal Highway Administration will release a Record of Decision (ROD) in August 2012.

The state's website for the proposed new bridge can be found here.

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Read what South Nyack homes may be demolished as a result of the new bridge .

Read about the current bridge's shortcomings .

Read about the suggested Tappan Zee tunnel .

Mike T February 29, 2012 at 01:58 AM
"Maybe next time [at Westchester's Thursday meeting] elected officials can speak after residents," he said. "Then they can actually hear what people who voted for them have to say." Excellent point! We have all read what will and will not happen with the new TZB, but those in charge are ignorant to what those who use the bridge twice a day are calling for. This is the equivalent of the City building a covered wagon bridge instead of the Triboro Bridge we have today. Residents are clearly calling for transit to be installed on the bridge from the start- but the State has their eyes closed and their ears covered. Thank you to those who were able to speak up about these issues!
JohnJ22 February 29, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Where is the additional money supposed to come from? Build what we can afford, with provisions for adding rail service in the future, when money is available. I often wonder how those that are always demanding "more" handle their personal budgets! Or are they the ones that end up in bankruptcy court screwing their creditors! I wish they would think in realistic terms!
Mike T February 29, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Well we could easily get "more" through simple government reductions and re-prioritizing. Look at how corrupt and unorganized the MTA is- it's criminal! The state can afford the transit option if they cut back on ridiculous other spending such as some insane pensions and salaries and mismanagement to provide something that actually is necessary for the taxpayers.
JohnJ22 February 29, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Agree...changes can be made in pension plans, and inordinate benefit plans, etc, HOWEVER, those changes will only apply to new hires. Current employees will be "grandfathered"! With new hiring now nonexistent, no benefit will be seen in the foreseeable future. Build qthe new bridge with provisions for future mass transit. When cost saving benefits are realized in the future, mass transit can be added. With all this bickering delaying construction, we will be fishing cars out of the Hudson,when there is a partial, or worse, of the current structure......!! Additionally, we will continue to pour maintenance monies into the present bridge. One should realize that this project must have been put on the "fast track" for a good reason....... And my guess would be to avert any disaster with the existing bridge.
Mike T February 29, 2012 at 09:27 PM
You bring up some very good points that I agree with. The bridge does need to be fast tracked for sure- I just wish there coule be an agreement where the feds (who are so hell bent on energy conservation and getting out of gas guzzling cars) would act on what they preach and fund some form of transit to ease congestion. It would be nice if the state and counties would kick in too, but I totally agree that we should not go into debt over this because as we've proven- we'll never get out of it.

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