Public Loses Interest as Tappan Zee Bridge’s Public Meetings Continue

Dwindling attendance at Haverstraw for meeting #35

BY SARA GILBERT

Yet another meeting was held on the Tappan Zee Bridge by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s team. This one, the 35th, was at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 22 at Haverstraw’s Town Hall on Rosman Road and only nine people were in attendance.

The new Tappan Zee Bridge Project team, which includes Brian Conybeare, special advisor to the governor; Karen Rae, deputy secretary for transportation; Robert Conway, the project’s environmental consultant; Andrew O’Rourke, director for the bridge’s information office and more, have been traveling around Rockland and Westchester counties this summer presenting the information available so far and answering the public’s questions and concerns.

This meeting in Haverstraw drew a very small crowd, nevertheless, the presentation forged ahead.

“Whether there are four people or four hundred, we want to make sure everyone hears all the information we have to offer and answer any questions anyone might have,” said Conybeare, special advisor to the governor for the Tappan Zee Bridge project.

Conybeare began by laying out the reasons for needing a new bridge. Most importantly, the current one was not built to last and is insufficient with current traffic needs.

The old bridge was only built to last for 50 years and needs regular repairs now, said Conybeare. Over the last decade, the state has spent more than $750 million in maintenance and repairs. For more than a decade, the need for a new bridge has been there and in discussion but nothing has been done. Finally, said Conybeare, this governor is taking control and getting the project off the ground.

“This new bridge should last at least 100 to 200 years before it needs any work or any fixing,” said Conybeare.

The bids from design and construction companies came in and total 70 boxes and 750,000 pages.

“We have about eight to 10 tech teams analyzing the bids but it’s a month-long process,” said Conybeare. “The last thing analyzed is the dollar amount. We don’t know any of this information yet. But as soon as we can share anything new about it with the public we will.” Conybeare said everyone is “trying to make the process as transparent as possible.”

Rae, deputy secretary for transportation, laid out all the options that the group had been considering and the only that made the most sense was the spend the money now on building a state-of-the-art bridge that would ready for any mass-transit and would have extra lanes for buses and emergencies in addition to bike and walk lanes.

The tolls for this option came to roughly $14 when they initially calculated it, said Rae. But Cuomo quickly responded to the high toll and challenged the thruway to find another way to make it less expensive. “It’s being worked on,” said Rae.

A suggestion came from the audience that maybe there could be a discount for Rockland and Westchester residents, since they’ll be hit hardest with such a high toll.

“All that’s on the table and being discussed now,” said Rae. “There are several options to consider, but there will be some kind of discount for locals and commuters.”

Mass-transit and environmental issues were discussed by Conway, the project’s environmental consultant.

The FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement) was released about a month ago and addresses 3,000 comments and concerns.

According to Conway, there were many voicing the support for the project, specifically because it will bring new jobs to the area and provide more lanes on the bridge.

There were many concerns as well, including concern about noise, dust, air quality, local traffic; the impact on the Hudson River, and mass-transit capability.

“This is the most stringent project I have dealt with,” said Conway. There will be 24-hour monitoring systems for noise, air quality and water quality. All measurements will be available online for the public in real-time.

Any techniques to muffle the noise will be made and any time the noise goes beyond the allowed level they will have to adjust accordingly, said Conway. Materials will be transferred via barges on the water to reduce congestion on local roads.

Haverstraw’s Supervisor Howard Phillps commented that he did not understand why people living near the bridge were complaining. “If you live near a bridge, you thought you wouldn’t ever have to deal with repairs or noise?”

Although Conway agreed that it should have occurred to residents, the governor and his team were doing everything they could to accommodate everyone.

Concerns about the river’s health are going to be addressed by restricting dredging to only three months out of the year. Also the equipment and speed of movement in the water will be monitored. In addition, at all times there will be water-life experts on board the barges just case there’s an endangered fish caught or injured.

And in terms of mass-transit, the capability will be there from day one, said Conway. And not just for buses, but for trains and future transit technology as well.

“BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) is essentially a train on wheels,” said Conway. “The “R” should stand for reliable, not rapid because that’s the most important thing about it. People need to know that it’ll get them there on time. It can’t be subject to congestion or other factors. And it must run like clockwork.”

This is an expensive operation though, involving a new route, knowing where to place the bus stops and designated bus lanes. To create a full 30-mile BRT system in the center of the highway would cost $4.6 billion and on the side of the highway it would be $5 billion. Even just a 6- or 7-mile BRT system is $1.9 billion. It requires massive construction, widening the highway and potential a $28-30 toll.

“Whatever you build needs to be good and reliable so people will use it,” said Conway. This bus system, or maybe even train system, are still in the discussion phase, but the bridge is close to receiving the go-ahead from the federal government and as soon as it does will begin the process.

Conway reminded the group that the FEIS is not the final answer. We’re continuing to talk to people. By September the decision will be made to go ahead but we can still take suggestions anytime.

The team is set up in offices just over the bridge in Tarrytown. There is a new website, www.newnybridge.com, and phone number, 1-855-892-7434, to call. “We’ve been instructed by the governor to respond to any questions or concerns within 24 hours and we will,” said Conybeare.

In closing, Phillips said, “We love it. Prior to Cuomo, we couldn’t get decisions made. This will provide much needed jobs and we have so many local construction workers… Let’s build a bridge!”