BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Representatives of public and private organizations involved in the forthcoming Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project held a community outreach meeting at the Ramapo Town Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday August 21 to inform local residents of recent plans and developments, including the clearing of a major hurtle to the bridge’s development in the Metropolitan Transportation Council’s approval of the project.
This meeting came one day after the Metropolitan Transportation Council voted unanimously to approve Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan, allowing Cuomo to begin the process of securing federal loans through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). The council included county executives from Rockland, Putnam, and Westchester Counties.
On the same day, Cuomo submitted a signed letter of intent to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, stating his intention to apply for federal funding. In this letter, he was joined by the county executives who had approved the plan, including Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, as well as New York Senate majority leader Dean Skelos and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee.
The meeting on Tuesday 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 Robert Conway, senior vice president of the environmental planning and engineering consultant firm AKRF and the creator of the Final Environmental Impact Survey (FEIS). They presented a general overview of the process by which a bridge will be selected, funded, and built.
According to Rae, the next steps of the pre-application process will involve the completion of a few final measures prior to the submission of a formal loan request. The evaluation and negotiation of the request are expected to take about a year to complete.
Despite the approvals, the council’s decision and the completed FEIS have not completely alleviated concerns about the project’s impact on the Hudson. Riverkeeper, an organization dedicated in part to protecting the river and its adjacent communities, has responded that the plan lacks transparency, the Council was too hasty in approving the plan without adequate funding information, and did not satisfactorily address key issues related to noise and air pollution and the destruction of marine habitats.
Following the presentation, community members were given a chance to air their concerns on a variety of topics including ancillary costs unrelated to construction, fencing to prevent suicides, parking for pedestrians and cyclists, aesthetic concerns, and traffic increases.
Local economic stimulus received particular attention. Michael Klein of Ramapo asked if it was guaranteed that local building materials and labor would be used rather than shipped in at an extra expense. In response Rae announced a buy-near provision which will ensure that materials are obtained partly from nearby suppliers.
The panel responded to the other inquiries by stating that costs not included are relatively small and will not greatly impact the final estimate and designers are being consulted for aesthetic considerations. However, the connection of the pedestrian and bike path with parking and existing paths will be left up to the towns and will not be addressed by bridge planners.
Traffic disturbances will be addressed with a number of measures, including the limiting of truck presence with barge transportation of materials and a veil to block the view of bridge construction, a unique measure to prevent rubbernecking. Fencing will also be included to protect pedestrians.