STORY AND PHOTO BY JANIE ROSMAN
At his first such public meeting after the State Senate approved him mid-June, Thruway Authority Executive Director, Robert L. Megna joked about hoping for a lot of ‘no’ votes.
“That didn’t happen,” Megna said.
State Office of Traffic Safety and Mobility Director Todd Westhuis is spearheading the project to revamp the Tappan ZEExpress bus service for the line and stops via new technology and transit management on Routes 59 Rockland and 119 (in lieu of dedicated bus lanes) and on I-287, signal priority and signal upgrades, ramp metering, and queue jump lanes.
Safety concerns along sections of Route 59 were identified using the US DOT’s “Safer People, Safer Streets” initiative via a pedestrian safety audit in Monsey and Spring Valley this past April.
Westhuis cited the Nanuet Park & Ride and upgrades to the Exit 14 Park & Ride facility. “All three lots there need improvement (to ensure) safe pedestrian passage to and from those lots and connect them to the corridor and improve transit access to that lot, in particular the BRT system to come,” he said.
A design is expected by fall, a lighting plan will be submitted by year’s end, and construction will begin next spring. “This lot is a key point identified in a study last year (by ARUP; see Rockland County Times story March 6, 2014), and it’s an area where we saw a high potential,” State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said.
There will be quicker access to the new transit system in Tarrytown, improvements to its Metro North train station and pick-up points within the village. Discussions with village officials identified the following needs; a contract will be awarded by year’s end to make sure changes are put in place.
“Our assumptions for this implementation are going to be checked against peers with similar programs nationwide,” Westhuis said. “Integrated corridor management (ICM) is a component of the BRT system.”
After last year’s application for a $26.7 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant through the US DOT was not approved, the state DOT resubmitted its application for $20.4 million in TIGER funds, as Deputy Secretary for Transportation Ron Thaniel noted at the May New NY Bridge community meeting.
Total cost for upgrading the system is $159.5 million; each route/increment can be done individually or collectively.
While Tri–State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool approved of initial plans, she’d like to see projected timelines for all routes.
“We made a very strategic decision to break these down into increments,” McDonald replied citing one route/increment — Spring Valley to Tarrytown — is approximately $12.5 million (four new stations and one new vehicle) and another — White Plains to the Bronx via Central Avenue — is $43 million (44 new stations, 15 new vehicles).
“Finding $12 million is generally easier than finding $43 million,” she said.
Upgrades to transit hub White Plains train station are in two phases; the first is a traffic circulation study, improving temporary station access and pedestrian access, the second is a compete redesign and reconstruction of the station, including the 19 acres of land owned by White Plains for mixed-use development.
Rockland County Legislator Harriet Cornell asked how the new system will be managed and operated. “I’m a great believer in collaboration, but perhaps there needs to be a ‘superpower’ to manage the entire system, not each county individually,” she said.
Vanterpool wants the group to convene regularly; McDonald said the task force had a finite end. “We had policy issues as well as operational and capital issues to discuss. A lot of detail work was done in the past year, and we weren’t ready to discuss where we were at (an earlier) time.”
From the DOT standpoint, she said, “we are committed to updating this group at the right moment in time.”
After the meeting the Rockland County Times spoke with McDonald.
“We’re working with local governments in some instances for this to be successful,” she said when asked about home rule. “Are you willing to give up four or five parking spaces on a route? That’s always a heated discussion.”
How will the new plans change traffic backups on 287 in both counties?
“We’re not just looking at it as BRT in isolation,” McDonald said. “We’re looking at the whole corridor, and that’s why some of these technologies — queue jumping, signal override — will help us to make those adjustments and to make it successful for everybody.”