Residents gathered Tuesday evening in the community rooms at the Palisades Center Mall in West Nyack to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for a new Tappan Zee Bridge.

Tuesday’s meeting is the first of two public hearings where the New York State Thruway Authority and New York State Department of Transportation will hear public comments and opinions on the DEIS. Planning for the new bridge has been happening for a decade, but only recently moved forward after New York secured federal seed money from the Obama administration and fast tracked the plan.

Project director Michael Anderson of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) spoke at the meeting about the deep structural problems with the existing Tappan Zee Bridge. The costs to maintain the current bridge would outweigh the costs for the eventual new bridge, he said. Anderson called a new bridge “the only reasonable alternative.”

During his talk, Anderson went through a timeline for the new bridge and some of the decision to be made as the project moves forward, such as the engineering design of the central span.

“Maximizing public investment in the bridge,” he said, “is the most important goal.” The new bridge will span the river near the current one, and lead from the South Broadway Bridge in South Nyack across the Hudson to Route 9 in Tarrytown.

The current Tappan Zee Bridge, built in 1952, was designed for 18,000 vehicles a day, today it accommodates over 100,000 vehicle crossings a day. In the DEIS the new bridge would have four lanes of traffic in each direction, as well as large shoulders for break downs, and a shared pedestrian/bike path.

Residents and public officials spoke at meeting and voiced their concerns about the bridge. Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef spoke first during the comments portion of the meeting. Vanderhoef gave his support for a new bridge and the jobs it would bring to the area. However Vanderhoef emphasized that he wants to see the integration of dedicated mass transit into the plans for the new bridge.

Dedicated mass transit was a big theme for speakers at the event. Currently there are no plans for it on the new bridge. But those who spoke urged that mass transit be considered for the bridge to be truly effective in the region. Some spoke about dedicated bus lanes for the continuation of the “Tappan Zee Express” bus service, some said that plans for a commuter rail were needed, while other advocated for both.

However other residents and officials expressed concern about construction of the new bridge being disruptive to riverfront residents and communities. Stories about the first Tappan Zee Bridge were told, where the construction of it destroyed Nyack’s entire business district and cut the village in half. Concern was also voiced about increased noise and pollution from the construction.

In a NY Times editorial penned this week the concept of keeping the old bridge around as a “greenway” for bicycles and walkers was floated. Governor Cuomo is likely to consider all options as demolition of the bridge carries a hefty price tag of $150 million. Unlike the old railroad crossing between Poughkeepsie and Highland 80 minutes upstate, which was turned into the Walkway Over the Hudson, the old Tappan Zee Bridge may simply be too big to use for that purpose.

The NYSDOT will be accepting comments from the public on the DEIS until March 15. Comments not spoken at the meetings can be submitted via email at tzbsite@dot.state.ny.us or mailed to the NYSDOT. The final environmental impact study is expected by July 2012.

The next public hearing on the new Tappan Zee Bridge will be held on March 1 at the Westchester Marriot starting at 4 p.m.