Plans for a rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge are underway. The Federal Highway Administration along with New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and New York State Thruway Authority are working on ways to improve the structure that has bridged Westchester County and Rockland County since the 1950s.
New bridge expected by 2017; no plans for a train at this time
BY KOREY WILSON
In October, the agencies held a scoping meeting to share details and receive input from the public before proceeding. “The scope of this project is to replace a bridge that has seven lanes with a bridge that has eight lanes,” said Joan MacDonald, Commissioner of the NYS Dept of Transportation. “We would also like to add breakdown lanes. Currently, when there is a breakdown, minimally one lane goes out of service. We would also like to add a bicycle/pedestrian lane to the bridge.”
In October, Governor Andrew Cuomo requested President Barack Obama to place the Tappan Zee Hudson River crossing project a high priority status of environmental review. The president agreed with the request.
The existing bridge was built in 1955 and serves more than 138,000 vehicles per day but NYSDOT sites two major needs for an improved Tappan Zee Bridge. “While the current bridge is safe, it falls short of current engineering standards. Due to its aging condition, advanced deterioration has caused the need for extensive repairs and projections for future needs are very significant,” said Mike Anderson of NYSDOT, who presented bridging options at the scoping meeting.
The Department of Transportation previously worked on a larger, 30-mile corridor project, dating back to 2002, which studied improvements for the Tappan Zee Bridge. The 30-mile corridor project, which extends from Suffern to Portchester, has been eliminated. “The timeline was outdated. The process was complex and unworkable. The economic and fiscal realities prevented financing of that larger corridor project,” said Anderson.
“The work had been done in previous is very valuable and remains relevant. The new project will be informed by studies done from the discontinued project,” said Anderson.
Alternatives that will be considered are a (1) no build (or no action) alternative and (2) a rebuilding alternative.The scoping process will allow all of the state and federal agencies involved to review the various alternatives available. During the corridor project, two alternatives considered were rehabbing the existing bridge and building tunnels, neither of which will be used because of the expense and maintenance involved.
“The no-build alternative is an assessment of future conditions of how the corridor will be functioning in terms of traffic, volumes and congestion. Based on the traffic, we’ll be able to tell what air quality and noise would be like. It sets the basis for comparison 30 years into the future of how the world would be without this project. We do analysis of alternatives and we compare the conditions in the future, which reflect the improvements of the project. We need to be sure the new project does not make conditions in future worst than they are today.”
The replacement alternative provides two structural types, a long span or a short span. This span would be built 300 feet north of the existing bridge. As the bridge approaches the shorelines, it coincides with the existing bridge.
The short span option would be two single-level structures. The long span option would be two new truss bridges with two levels each. Both would be separated by a 42-foot gap at their main spans. Each bridge would have 8 lanes, 4 in each direction with safety shoulders on each side of the bridge.
The immediate plans do not include, but do not rule out, a transit system. Many commuters at the scoping meeting believe that adding a mass transit system will alleviate traffic issues going over the bridge. Anderson said there would be future consideration for adding a transit system. This may involve a potential third parallel bridge that would be built at a later date, exclusively for the use of the transit system. This bridge would be used for buses, a commuter rail or a light rail. “The options for transit are wide open. We are not limited. It would not reduce the traffic lanes,” added Anderson.
“It is our goal to start construction in the summer or early fall of 2012. That would put people to work in construction industry, an area that has been hit extremely hard by the economy. It will put us on a path to replace a functional obsolete bridge in a manner that doesn’t preclude transit,” said McDonald. The bridge would be open for use in 2017.
“I am ecstatic that the Governor Cuomo was able to get the $5.2 billion to expedite this project for this bridge,” said Christopher St. Lawrence, supervisor of the Town of Ramapo. “The Tappan Zee Bridge is a vital link to this region. As a member of the governor’s economic regional counsel, I will tell you that the seven counties depend on this bridge.”