BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
New York State is pulling out all the stops to speed up the replacement of the 57-year-old Tappan Zee Bridge, officials told standing-room-only crowds of Rockland and Westchester residents last week.
The pace has picked up so dramatically that construction of steel and concrete columns to support new twin bridges across the Hudson could start by this fall. Work on the bridges themselves is slated to begin as early as next year.
Among the news from public hearings held at the Palisades Center Mall and the Westchester Marriott Hotel in Tarrytown last week, state officials released information that twelve properties in the Village of South Nyack will be affected by the necessary widening of the New York State Thruway Authority’s right-of-way there.
A sliver of South Nyack’s Elizabeth Place Park (3.7 percent) will be taken, as well as small portions of five private lots of vacant property, including one owned by the Salisbury Point Apartment complex. Owners will be compensated for those takings, and none would render the adjacent properties any less usable.
The report states that the taxes on the 11 privately owned lots or portions of lots to be acquired total $80,068, which would be lost by the municipalities levying the taxes.
The report also shows six homes that the Thruway Authority must acquire to widen its right-of-way through South Nyack. Those lots will be taken in their entirety, and the houses either demolished or moved, if the owners want to re-locate them elsewhere. The six properties need to be acquired and leveled, the report says, because the South Broadway Bridge over the Thruway must be widened at that location.
They include a two-family house at 21 Cornelison Ave. and a single-family home at 78 Smith Avenue, both sitting at the corner of Broadway; and a two-family home on Elizabeth Place, adjacent to the public park.
Three homes, including a two-family and two single-family dwellings, will also be taken on the east side of South Broadway, between the Thruway overpass and Ferris Lane. A total of nine families will be displaced from the six dwellings, the report asserts, and assistance will be given to the owners and/or tenants in attempts to relocate.
In contrast, no land or homes on the Westchester side of the river will be taken, because the existing right of way is wide enough to accommodate the planned new bridge.
The interest in the bridge project was so intense that the state scheduled four hearings, two in each county last week. Crowds of more than 1,000 residents and public officials jammed each of the four events.
The format was the same at all four sessions. Michael Anderson of the New York State Department of Transportation, overall project director for the new bridge, gave a presentation followed by presentations from David Capobianco, chief engineer of the New York State Thruway Authority, and Richard Tomer of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Other co-sponsoring or cooperating agencies in the bridge project include the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)’ the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. Each agency, along with several consultants, had representatives at the meetings.
Anderson started each meeting with a half-hour briefing on the background of the bridge project followed by shorter comments from the others. Those attending the meetings could then either ask questions or make statements publicly from the floor, give their statements privately to a stenographer in another room, or submit their statements and questions in writing, directly to the bridge project office.
Answers to questions and comments were not given at any of the hearings. Anderson said none would be given for the stenographed or the written comments. Any responses the co-sponsoring agencies might have will appear as part of the written report they will issue in a few months. Some of the questions and comments may also be included in the report, Anderson said, but all of them will be placed in the permanent file, and referenced in the report’s index by name.
The preliminary report from similar hearings last fall, which was available at all four hearings last week, was several thousand pages thick, in several volumes with indexes, drawings and maps, and Anderson said he anticipated the final report will be even larger. When completed, it will also be available for public inspection.
Anderson noted in his presentation that President Barrack Obama has given the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction project his “highest priority”. The president has ordered that it proceed immediately. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is directing all state agencies to expedite the process, shares this view.
A new draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) was issued Jan. 19 of this year, followed by the start of riverbed testing on Jan. 30. During the riverbed testing, core samples are being extracted from the riverbed to test the soil, sediment in order to determine what type of pier construction will be needed to support the new bridge.
Anderson said the testing project is proceeding speedily, with several test bores already taken from four barges anchored in the Hudson off South Nyack. The project will be completed by July, at which time the DOT and Thruway Authority will know how many piles are needed, how deep they have to be drilled and poured and how they have to be constructed to support the new bridges spanning them.
Anderson explained that to save time and money, the co-sponsoring agencies have decided not make any of the engineering decisions. Instead they will lay out the options to potential bidders, and let the contractors decide which options they prefer, and submit cost estimates.
A final environmental impact statement, called an FEIS, will be issued in late July, and within a month or two the co-sponsoring agencies plan to issue their final decision on the type of replacement bridges they will be seeking. The construction project will then be put out to bid this fall for contractors. After the awards are made, work on the new bridge could begin by the spring of next year.
Considerable historic research on the shorelines and river bottoms at South Nyack and Tarrytown were performed by consultants hired by the co-sponsors, including the Lamont Geophysical Observatory in Palisades, which has studied the bottoms of oceans and rivers, including the Hudson for several decades.
Those reports, available at all four public hearings in the DEIS documents, showed that virtually nothing of significance was found along the Westchester shoreline. They went on to say the reason is that municipalities and commercial developers have dumped tons of fill dirt into the Hudson to provide additional land area on which to build factories, apartments, parks, streets, railroads and other “improvements.”
On the Rockland side no such fill exists. According to the consultants, considerable evidence of early Indian inhabitance of the area was found, including arrowheads, utensils, pottery and piles of shells. On the bottom of the river itself they found the remains of several ships, which they dated from pre-Revolutionary times all the way to the early 20th century.
The reports state that none of the sites were explored in detail, but they urge future studies to be undertaken on them before any bridge construction begins.
New Future for an Old Bridge?
Representatives from the co-sponsoring agencies said they are receptive to comments they have received over the past two weeks suggesting that the existing Tappan Zee Bridge be left in place rather than demolished. The old bridge could be turned into a park and walkway over the Hudson, similar to a former railroad bridge near the Mid Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie that is now a leading tourist attraction.
Officials have estimated it would cost about $150 million to demolish the existing bridge. No estimates have been made about how maintenance costs to retain the bridge just for pedestrian and bicycle traffic rather than trucks and cars. Though officials acknowledged at the hearings that those costs should be far less than the current maintenance costs.
Other suggestions at the four hearings last week also included using the existing bridge for bus and rail rapid transit, instead of trying to add them to the new bridges later, and using the current bridge partially for bus and rail transit and partially for pedestrian and bicycle use, since it is already four lanes wide and should easily be able to accommodate all four modes of transportation.
Thruway and transportation officials indicated they would probably instruct their consultants to consider the suggestions and additional alternatives, and might include it in their final FEIS in July.
Anyone who did not participate in the public hearings but still wants to submit questions or suggestions could do so in writing or by email. The deadline for such submissions is March 15. The snail mail address to send comments is Michael P. Anderson, NYS DOT, 4 Burnett Boulevard, Poughkeepsie, NY 12603. The project e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and the fax number is 845-454-7443.
The full DEIS environmental report, including a history of the project, maps, archaeology studies and alternatives, can be found at the DOT’s website at www.tzbsite.com and clicking on the DEIS tab. It is also available at eight locations in Rockland County, including the Orangetown, Clarkstown and Ramapo Town Halls, Nanuet, Nyack, Suffern and West Nyack Public Libraries and the Rockland County Department of Transportation at Building T in the Pomona Health Complex.