American Planning Association Chapter Demolishes Cuomo Tappan Zee Claims

The New York area’s urban planning community issued a striking rebuke to the Cuomo administration over its plans for a new Tappan Zee Bridge last week. In a letter to the state Department of Transportation [PDF], the regional chapter of the American Planning Association, which represents 1,200 professional planners, challenged the Cuomo administration’s claims about the project and urged the immediate restoration of transit infrastructure to plans for the bridge.

Professional planners aren't buying the Cuomo administration's line about preserving the option to build transit on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

In a four-page letter, the APA New York Metro Chapter methodically rebuts the state’s inaccurate and even dishonest claims about the bridge.

Most importantly, the letter rejects the Cuomo administration’s central promise about the new TZB: that it is being designed so as “not to preclude” transit. “We believe a project design so as ‘not to preclude’ transit realistically does have the effect of precluding transit,” the writers state. The Cuomo administration hasn’t given these professional planners sufficient reason to believe that the details of transit accommodation are being considered. The state’s only answer to the ever-growing coalition of local officials who are demanding transit — that it can be added later — apparently earns a grade of incomplete.

That isn’t the only weak point that the APA identifies. The Cuomo administration, for example, claims that it cannot afford to build transit. Its projections of the cost of a bus rapid transit system, however, are two to five times higher than what the state had estimated just two years before. “We believe the costs associated with the BRT option appear to be inflated in the DEIS, possibly skewing the comparative analysis,” reads the letter. “The assumed costs per mile seem significantly higher than the industry standard for constructing BRT systems.” They call for an itemized breakdown of transit costs from the state.

Similarly, the state’s draft environmental impact statement asserts that the new Tappan Zee Bridge, which will double the width of the bridge yet dedicate no space to transit, meets the requirements of the state’s smart growth law.

Not so, say the professional planners: “The DEIS claims that the project is consistent with the New York State Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act. However, the project is inconsistent with at least 2 of the 10 criteria.” The letter states that the new bridge will induce more driving, something the state’s analysis denies.

Moving forward, the APA chapter urges the state to restore transit infrastructure to the bridge plans, whether rail or bus. True to their profession, they also call on the state to revive the transit-oriented development workshops that had been underway until the Cuomo administration cut both the transit and the public outreach out of the project.

“Transit routes are more than just a transportation link,” they write. “A new transit system along the entire I-287 corridor would bring new opportunities to re-think land development in underutilized areas or struggling downtowns.”

Politically, the Cuomo administration is becoming increasingly isolated in its opposition to Tappan Zee transit. Three county executives, state senators from both sides of the aisle, the Hudson Valley’s largest cities and smaller municipalities: all are demanding that the state restore transit to its plans for the bridge. Now, the state’s already-weak technical analysis is under fire from the planning profession itself. The transit-free Tappan Zee is a dud. When will Andrew Cuomo admit it?