Questions Linger Over Cuomo’s Tappan Zee Transit Plans

On Monday, Governor Cuomo announced that the state would provide $20 million for transit service across the new Tappan Zee Bridge, and is applying for a federal grant as well. While this first step is welcome news, there are still more questions than answers about what this money will pay for and how the rest of the project’s bus system will be funded and operated.

That bus now has $20 million behind it, but more work remains before service can begin. Image: Tappan Zee Constructors/HDR Engineering
That bus now has $20 million behind it, but more work remains before service can begin. Image: Tappan Zee Constructors/HDR Engineering

Two months ago, the Tappan Zee transit task force issued its recommendations, proposing a series of bus improvements that should be operational when the bridge opens in 2018, plus further investments to follow. The report did not include cost estimates and was short on details about funding and implementation.

While the governor’s announcement appears to follow through on the task force’s work, it’s not clear exactly what the governor’s commitment of $20 million will pay for. The Journal News reports that “a state official said the $20 million has been earmarked in the state transportation budget,” but there are no other details, including which of the task force’s recommendations will be funded by the state money.

Cuomo also announced that the state DOT is applying for a $26.7 million federal TIGER grant to fund additional improvements. These include a mix of upgrades that have direct and indirect benefits to bus riders, including new bus stations, improved pedestrian connections to transit, “smart” traffic signals on Route 59 in Rockland County that include queue-jumps for buses, a “transit boulevard” on Route 119 in White Plains, and metering on ramps to I-287.

Streetsblog has asked the governor’s office and state DOT for more information about the $20 million announcement and its TIGER grant application. (Applications for the latest round of TIGER funds were due on Monday, but U.S. DOT refused to provide information on pending applications.)

Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign and a task force member, welcomed what she called “seed money,” adding that it vindicated advocates who had pressed the governor to include Bus Rapid Transit in the Tappan Zee project from the outset. “With relatively modest investments, you can lay the foundation for a Bus Rapid Transit system,” she said.  “I was really encouraged to see how swiftly the governor is moving… Coupled with the TIGER grant, that could be a really good initial outlay.”

More questions loom for the Tappan Zee bus system. The operator of the proposed 50-bus, seven-route service remains uncertain. Other potential sources of funding for Tappan Zee transit, including additional state funds, other federal grants, and Rockland and Westchester counties, have yet to be identified. And perhaps most importantly, the bridge project’s toll and financing task force has still not been formed — a situation that will probably persist at least until election day, since Cuomo faces a challenge from Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.