BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Representatives of public and private organizations held a community outreach meeting at the New City Library at 6 p.m. on August 14, 2012 to inform local residents of recent developments in the forthcoming project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.
The meeting was directed by a three-person panel consisting of Special Advisor to the Governor on the Tappan Zee Bridge Project Brian Conybeare, Secretary of Transportation for the Governor Karen Rae, and Mark Roche, a civil engineer with Arup.
The meeting also allowed local residents to air their concerns and offer suggestions for topics ranging from funding and cost-sharing to earthquake resilience. Bridge planners have stated that community outreach is one of their priorities and actively seek input from residents and experts.
Rae presented the current plan for the bridge. Rae stated that the structure of the new bridge will likely consist of twin spans supporting 4 general traffic lanes in each direction, emergency vehicle lanes, shoulder lanes, real-time traffic sensors, an improved EZ Pass collection system, and a pedestrian walkway and bicycle path on one side.
One of the emergency or shoulder lanes will be reserved for express bus service and there is potential for the addition of additional bus lanes, including a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. The overall cost has been estimated at $5 billion and is expected to last at least 100 years.
Tolls have been a significant issue and were addressed as well. In response to concerns, Governor Andrew Cuomo pressed planners and local officials to explore ways to reduce tolls by improving federal support for the project, expanding discount programs for Rockland and Westchester residents, and pursuing other measures. At the meeting, the bridge’s toll was roughly-estimated to be $8.40 for commuters but is being re-evaluated.
The environmental effects, which have become a major concern, were addressed by Mark Roche. Roche stated that in order to explore and present solutions to potential issues, the Federal Highway Administration issued the Federal Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), a study which evaluated the impact of the bridge upon the surrounding area, especially marine life such as the endangered long-nosed sturgeon.
Following a battery of peer-review by several governmental bodies, the FEIS was adjusted until the plans were deemed to have a minimal impact upon Hudson River ecosystems and communities. Included in the plan was the proposed use of “bubble shield” technology to limit underwater sound disturbances and the use of Tier 3 safety measures, the newest and most stringent safety standards in existence for such projects.
“By the time it’s getting to public review, the document has been through so many experts, it’s been thoroughly reviewed, and it takes some of those ten years that you heard about and some of those $80 million dollars to get through all of that,” Roche stated. “So to get through all those agencies is an extremely difficult thing to do.”
Conybeare spoke on the governmental processes by which a plan will be chosen. All bids have been submitted and a team of ten experts are halfway through a month-long review process. Meanwhile, bidders are encouraged to make voluntary presentations of their plans to the public.
Bridge plans had stalled in the past when builders and planners had disagreements and abandoned the project, leaving the state to absorb the cost of the unfinished work. With the new Design-Build Law signed by Governor Cuomo, teams of designers and
builders submit plans to the state for review and the state is no longer bound to select the lowest bid, with all liability for delays falling upon builders rather than taxpayers.
When asked about the issue of eminent domain seizures, Conybeare stressed that previous plans to buy out several Nyack residences have been scrapped and that current plans would not involve home losses in Rockland County.
“There will be some very minimal easements and property takings, but no one is losing a house. No one is losing an entire property. That won’t happen in this project.” Conybeare said.
Following the presentation, community members had the opportunity to ask questions and provide input. Among the suggestions were lanes for high-occupancy vehicles, prevention measures for earthquakes arising from the Ramapo fault line, toll discounts for residents, and the employment of local workers for construction.
In response, the panel stressed that planners and builders will adhere to all federal seismic codes and announced that a project labor agreement had been reached, which encourages local tradesmen and businesses to participate in the project. Additionally, high-occupancy vehicle lanes might be included along with BRT as a later consideration and discounts were being explored as a measure to alleviate commuter expenses.
Several elected officials spoke at the meeting, as well. New York State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski thanked the committee for their work and community outreach and Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence commended the process to limit environmental impact.
County legislator Ed Day stressed that though the toll issue was a critical concern and could affect commerce, especially when it comes to revenue generated by Westchester shoppers visiting the Palisades Center Mall. Day suggested looking to local road authorities to help fund the thruway.
“It has to be understood: The tolls are gonna have an economic impact disparate in many ways upon this community,” Day said. “But again, as I said, I’m very happy the governor is taking that challenge up and I wholeheartedly support the issue of this bridge because it’s critical that it gets done for this community.”
Reaction from local organizations to previous bridge plans has ranged from enthusiastic to critical. A Salisbury Co-Op meeting earlier in the spring focused upon noise, traffic, and environmental issues, with representatives of River Keeper and Mack Engineering Associates describing a previous draft resolution as insufficient.
On the other hand, Build the Bridge Now NY has stated that the current bridge is not only a safety hazard, but also a hindrance for cross-county business, adding that a replacement is a potentially lucrative long-term investment.
As per federal requirements, the current bridge, which has proven insufficient for the high volume of traffic and is subject to an accident rate twice the average for county highways, will be demolished. According to Conybeare, the Army Corps of Engineers had advised that the presence of two bridges would make the river un-navigable for both watercraft and marine life.
If you have questions or concerns about the new bridge, more information is available by calling 1-855-TZBRIDGE or visiting www.newnybridge.com.