Hudson Valley Elected Officials Blast Decision to Take Transit Off Tappan Zee

Hudson Valley elected officials, including County Executives C. Scott Vanderhoef and Rob Astorino and State Senators Suzi Oppenheimer, David Carlucci and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, called for transit to be restored to plans for the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

After nine years of study and 280 meetings, New York State had reached the conclusion that the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge needed to include transit: both a Metro-North extension and a new cross-county bus rapid transit system. Up until quite recently, state agencies forcefully argued that only transit could improve mobility between Westchester and Rockland Counties and provide a backbone for sustainable future growth. Residents of both counties agreed and bought into the decision. Transit on the Tappan Zee was popular. It was the plan.

Elected officials on both sides of the Hudson are now criticizing the decision, made behind closed doors, to build a bridge without transit. Below, we’ve pulled together the responses of over a dozen elected officials to the removal of transit from the Tappan Zee, gathered from Streetsblog interviews and other press reports.

Nearly all of the elected officials who have mentioned the decision to remove transit from the bridge, and all of the highest-ranking officials, opposed the state’s decision.

State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, in a statement to Streetsblog:

I strongly support the inclusion of mass transit improvements in the design and construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.  Providing space for a public transportation project to be built sometime in the future is neither a sensible nor cost-effective solution.  Current traffic patterns along the I-287 corridor cry out for more mass transit options now, not just in the future.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, in an official press release:

“However, before shovels go in the ground, it is critical that the public fully understand the proposal before us and the impact it will have on our pocketbooks, environment and communities. Specifically, I am troubled by the proposed design’s absence of a mass transit component that would help alleviate congestion.”

Astorino noted the importance of keeping costs under control, but warned against building a bridge that is penny-wise and pound-foolish. “We can’t build an eight-track bridge in an iPod world. Our efforts must produce practical solutions, not only to the problems of today, but to the challenges we will face in the future.” Astorino urged the federal and state agencies responsible for the project to reconsider the design to immediately accommodate Bus Rapid Transit, which would provide great benefit at a minimal cost.

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, quoted in the Mid-Hudson News:

“Rockland County considers it a requirement that any alternative must preserve and enhance the quality of life of Rockland County residents because it will shape the future of Rockland and the region for the next 100 years,” Vanderhoef told [NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald]. “While we recognize the advantages of a project that is focused on the Tappan Zee Bridge itself, the scope of the project must include a dedicated bus/BRT/HOV lane on the crossing and a direct BRT connection from the crossing to the Tarrytown station in order for this project to be acceptable to Rockland County.”

Vanderhoef, quoted in the Journal News:

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef agreed that while it was vital to have a safer bridge, it would not address long-term concerns for the region. “You can’t just throw a bridge down there and say we’ll build the rest of it later,” Vanderhoef said.

State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, in a statement to the New York League of Conservation Votes:

As we wrestle with the costs of this project, we must consider our future transportation needs. To that end, it is critical that the new bridge include mass transit options such as bus rapid transit, so that it can sustain increased usage for years to come. This is what’s best for our environment, our economy and our transportation system as a whole.

State Senator David Carlucci, quoted by Patch:

Carlucci said the potential for the project to begin in 18 months and bring with it almost 30,000 construction jobs is a major plus for Rockland and the entire region and will “revitalize our transportation infrastructure.” He acknowledged many details of the multi-billion dollar project still need to be worked out, especially what type of rapid mass transit will transport people over the bridge. “I think the rapid bus transit plan is the most realistic and something we could see happening in the next few years,” said Carlucci, noting that residents have expressed strong opposition to the idea of an elevated light rail system.

State Assembly Member Tom Abinanti, quoted by the Journal News:

Without transit, some said, the bridge would be simply another conduit for traffic that would jam up on the roads where the bridge met land. State Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, cautioned officials that the bridge should not simply “allow more vehicles to come across faster and sit in traffic in our communities.”

State Assembly Member Ken Zembrowski, quoted by Transportation Nation:

Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski stirred up memories of last year’s ARC tunnel cancellation with some cautionary words. “Certainly,” he said, “this could be Rockland’s last chance for having a one-seat ride into the city.”

Nyack Mayor Richard Kavesh, quoted by the Daily Greenburgh:

Kavesh pointed out that the whole reason behind the original I-87/287 corridor project was to “get people out of their cars and into mass transit to reduce congestion and reduce pollution. That is decidedly lacking in this Hudson River Crossing Project,” Kavesh said, later adding, “To say that you propose something that does not preclude mass transit is a lot different than proposing something that includes mass transit from the very beginning.”

Tarrytown Mayor Drew Fixell, quoted by the Journal News:

Tarrytown Mayor Drew Fixell said one of the main causes of congestion in the corridor is the number of lanes at either end of the bridge, which squeeze drivers as they get on or off. Fixing those Thruway bottlenecks might still be part of the federal plan but congestion would be best addressed with bus rapid transit. “The benefits of BRT are real and significant,” Fixell said. “I hate to see this as a missed opportunity, which we may not get again.”

Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, in the Journal News:

Don’t replace a 1950s bridge with a 1980s bridge.

Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick, quoted by the Daily Greenburgh:

Lesnick said any proposed bridge that does not include mass transit is “a missed opportunity.” Lesnick noted that the George Washington Bridge in New York City was also supposed to have a mass transit option built later. That bridge turned 80 on Monday. “We’re still waiting for the train to come on that bridge,” Lesnick said.

Rockland County Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, to the Journal News editorial board:

It’s very encouraging that we can look at a bridge coming to fruition, but we also have to be very vigilant in seeing that mass transit is included. There are certainly ways of tackling (the project) in phases. I think it would be a mistake for us to just forget the idea of mass transit.

Rockland County Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, in Transportation Nation:

“I think there’s a bit of a difference between not precluding public transportation and actively making provision for future transit in the construction.”

Some elected officials, however, argued that starting construction immediately was more important than building transit immediately and that leaving room for transit to be added to the bridge later was sufficient.

State Assembly Member Ellen Jaffee, in a statement provided by Governor Cuomo’s office:

Finally after more than a decade of studies and talk we are seeing real progress on replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge. Governor Cuomo’s new plan for the Tappan Zee will create thousands of jobs, preserve options for bus rapid transit, and reduce accidents and congestion. I proudly support the Governor’s new plan which will finally give our community a new Tappan Zee Bridge.

Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, in a statement provided by Governor Cuomo’s office:

For over a decade, plans for building a new Tappan Zee Bridge have been stalled. Governor Cuomo’s new expedited plan for the Tappan Zee is finally delivering results. The new Tappan Zee Bridge is safer, creates jobs and creates mass transit options for the future. The Governor’s plan is a huge win for our community and I am happy to support it.

Federal elected officials were less willing to speak out on the details of the plan. A spokesperson for Representative Nita Lowey told Streetsblog that she is still reviewing the plans for the bridge with state and local officials. Senator Chuck Schumer said that he’d let the state and local officials design the bridge however they chose. “Once they do,” he said, “I will push hard to get as much federal funding as we can.”