BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
South Nyack residents turned on their own village officials and the planners of the new Tappan Zee Bridge with a vengeance last week, voicing fears that a pedestrian and bike path included on the new bridge could overwhelm the community’s quiet streets.
Gathered for a community meeting at Nyack College last Thursday, about 250 residents opposed designs for the new path that would have its Rockland County terminus on South Broadway – just across the street from South Nyack Village Hall.
Additionally, residents voiced opposition to plans suggested by South Nyack village officials, who believed that by letting the state use the site of the current Village Hall as a parking area for the new path that the village could get funding for a new village hall to better accommodate its municipal offices and the South Nyack-Grand View Police Department.
A design for the path was unveiled at the meeting sponsored by the South Nyack Village Board, the village’s Tappan Zee Bridge Task Force, the New York State Thruway Authority and the Tappan Zee Constructors, the private consortium that is building the new bridge for the state. The two-hour meeting was led by South Nyack Mayor Bonnie Christian.
A fourth generation village resident, Christian said she and the other members of the Village Board are well aware of the major impact the new bridge will have on their tiny municipality, which is almost entirely residential. She said that when they were first notified that a hiking and biking trail was also being proposed for the new bridge, a three-member task force was formed, chaired by former Rockland County Legislature member Connie Cocker and including Richard Kohlhausen and Jerry Ilowite, all village residents.
The plans shown at the meeting reflected changes that had already been sought by South Nyack. Initially, the “Shared Use Path” plan called for having it land in South Nyack at Smith Avenue – a tiny dead-end street off Piermont Avenue. South Nyack officials warned Smith Avenue was impractical.
The Shared Use Path was then extended a short distance to the intersection of South Broadway and Cornelison Avenue, with the Village Hall site slated for parking. A concession/refreshment stand and bathroom facilities would be constructed, extensive landscaping installed, and the path would essentially connect with the existing Esposito Trail, which runs from Nyack, through South Nyack and Grand View to Piermont and is located behind Village Hall.
This would permit visitors to park their cars in Tarrytown, walk or bike across the new 3-mile bridge, stop briefly to relax at the South Nyack plaza. And they could continue north into downtown Nyack or south into Piermont and even further by connecting with Orangetown’s lengthy Joseph B. Clarke Rail-Trail which goes to Orangeburg, Blauvelt, Sparkill and Tappan.
The entire cost of the project would be funded by the state.
The mayor, trustees, task force members, consultants and Brian Conybeare, special advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, all seemed pleased with their efforts so far. They happily showed a power point presentation of the new bridge, the new shared use path, and drawings of visitors enjoying the rest stop at village hall plaza.
But they quickly heard from village residents that they were not pleased.
Speaker after speaker blasted the plan as insensitive and destructive of South Nyack’s residential way of life. Many of the 35 speakers said they recalled broken promises given by the state 60 years ago when the original Tappan Zee Bridge was built – wiping out South Nyack’s downtown to create the massive 25-acre Exit 10 Thruway interchange.
They contend one of those promises was that Exit 10 land could be reclaimed to construct new amenities or businesses. Instead, the Thruway used that land as a commercial parking lot for trucks and a storage yard for Thruway vehicles and material. Now, it is the staging area for contracting firms building the replacement bridge.
The angry residents quickly urged the South Nyack terminus of the new path be at the Exit 10 circle, where they said there is plenty of room for parking, food stands, toilet facilities, a picnic area, a park and to link with the Esposito Trail. This would accommodate visitors to the Nyack area without putting them directly onto South Nyack’s quiet, residential streets.
Conybeare, however, said the Exit 10 interchange will be tied up for the length of he bridge project, which is expected to run through 2018. The new path, he noted, is part of the first of the two spans that are being constructed, and the Exit 10 land would not yet be available.
He also said the future use for Exit 10 has not yet been planned out.
Conybeare and Christian both noted there has always been an informal understanding between the state and South Nyack that Exit 10 may someday be given back to the village to sell and develop commercially, to put the property back on the tax rolls and bring the village some needed tax revenue.
Using that area for a hiking-biking way station might preclude future commercial use of the valuable site, they added.
By the day after the big meeting, South Nyack officials seemed united with the residents, and were calling on the state to revise its plans for the new path.
Mayor Christian said the task force would meet again Wednesday (last night) to try and come up with new ideas. To help that process, South Nyack has been asking that the bridge project pay for a $250,000 study that would help come up with a long-term plan for the Exit 10 interchange property.
The new bridge, which is costing $3.9 billion, will actually be two parallel bridges constructed to the north of the existing structure, which was built in 1955. Each will contain six lanes; four for through traffic, one for breakdowns and emergencies and one dedicated to bus rapid transit (BRT) vehicles.
The westbound bridge, from Tarrytown to South Nyack, will also contain the additional path along its northern edge, devoted to pedestrian and bicycle travelers. Separated from traffic lanes by a safety barrier, it will have six scenic overlooks which will overhang the Hudson River and provide resting areas for hikers and bikers, complete with benches and other amenities.
The existing bridge is set to be demolished in the project.
Some of the comments made by South Nyack residents at Thursday’s meeting included:
- Michael Hogan claimed as many as 3,000 people hike across the Walkway Over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie on a sunny weekend, while hundreds cross the George Washington and Bear Mountain Bridges, meaning tiny South Nyack could be “inundated” with visitors who would get dumped in a residential area with no place to go.
- Faith Elliott said she “seriously questions the integrity of the entire project.”
- “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” Greg Tulin echoed. “Why should we accommodate the state and give them our village hall? Don’t trust them and don’t give them anything.”
- Jennifer Walker, who lives opposite village hall, said the site is at the village’s most dangerous intersection, and it would be a tragic mistake to locate a hiking and biking trailhead there, where all visitors would have to cross the busy intersection.
- Susan Tella said hundreds of bikers currently descend on South Nyack every summer weekend on their way to Nyack, precluding local residents from being able to enjoy their own streets.
- Jennifer Rothschild said Conybeare should meet with more local residents to get their input.
- Diane Dowling suggested bridging the new path over South Broadway, avoiding village hall and its parking lot altogether, and connecting directly to the Esposito Trail, so visitors would go through South Nyack without ever using village streets.
- Former Orangetown councilwoman and current Rockland County Legislator from South Nyack Nancy Low-Hogan urged state officials not to approve any hiking and biking path now, but rather take it back to the drawing board and come up with entirely new proposals
- Francis Pratt, long-time head of Nyack’s NAACP chapter, urged officials to eliminate parking for the trail immediately because it is not wanted in that area.
- Robert Wisner, who lives at the corner of Cornelison Avenue and South Broadway, said the state has already taken a third of his property by eminent domain for the new trail and, in a particularly bitter outburst claimed the entire meeting was a sham because “the state has already made their plans, they have taken the property they want and need, and their plans are already final, no matter what they tell us here tonight.”
- “This (the current plan) is not a solution,” Anne Hekker-White said. “The only real solution is to use Exit 10 on the Thruway.”
By Tuesday, Low-Hogan had issued a new statement, blasting Thruway officials and urging South Nyack officials to adopt a new approach.
She began by complimenting village officials for scrapping their original proposal and now favoring a relocation of the trailhead to the Exit 10 Thruway interchange.
“The Village of South Nyack cannot provide the only access and parking for the Shared Path,” Low-Hogan stated. “The location of the terminus in a residential neighborhood in South Nyack is not appropriate. The streets do not have the capacity to handle the anticipated pedestrian bike and car volume. We need a more comprehensive approach to the Shared use Path on the Tappan Zee Bridge.”
Another community meeting to update the public on the bridge project is set for Thursday (today) at 6:30 p.m. at Nyack High School.