Cuomo Admin Walks Back Promise of Tappan Zee Bus Lanes

Even the Cuomo administration’s smallest concessions to transit riders on the Tappan Zee Bridge, it seems, are far from guaranteed.

After canceling all transit planning along the corridor, the Cuomo administration has consistently done everything in its power to avoid giving Hudson Valley commuters the transit system they are demanding: inflating the price tag of transit by including unrelated highway work, ignoring cheap or incremental transit improvements, and imagining popular opposition to transit that doesn’t seem to exist.

In the final environmental impact statement for the new bridge, released today, the administration continues to do all those things, throwing up roadblocks to providing transit rather than knocking them down. But the Cuomo administration goes further still, walking back the only accommodation they had offered to bus riders in Westchester and Rockland Counties. The administration’s promise to allow buses to use the extra lanes being built on each span of the new bridge, the so-called “emergency vehicle lanes,” has dwindled to a mere possibility, requiring further study.

The decision to let buses skip traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge was hailed as Governor Cuomo’s first step in the direction of a transit-friendly bridge. County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, who had been fighting for better transit service across the bridge, identified that offer as a prime reason he was willing to start going along with the governor’s plans for the Tappan Zee. And in public forums since then, top administration officials have repeatedly cited it as evidence that they weren’t ignoring transit entirely.

Now, however, even that minor concession is being walked back.”The Replacement Bridge Alternative configuration could support the ability for express bus services to use the extra width on the bridge during peak hours,” says the FEIS. “This use would have to be appropriately assessed and considered before being implemented.” Similar language is repeated throughout the lengthy document.

Cuomo’s press release, too, switches to conditional language: “The new bridge could support the ability for express bus services to utilize the extra wide shoulders on the bridge.”

“Governor Cuomo must firmly commit to the rush hour bus lane access his administration promised in June and further improvements to east-west bus transit in Westchester and Rockland Counties,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director Veronica Vanterpool in a statement, “improvements that will get people out of their cars and provide them a viable transit option that will spare them the burden of the bridge’s proposed higher tolls.”

If the extra lanes aren’t used for buses, they will just be extra concrete poured at the tollpayer’s expense. Emergency vehicle lanes don’t exist on any significant bridge in the country — shoulders, which the new bridge will add, are sufficient for providing emergency access — a point which the FEIS essentially admits.

“The extra-wide shoulders are not a standard highway design feature,” the DEIS says. “However, they maximize the public investment by allowing space for future options on the replacement bridge.” It looks like Governor Cuomo wants to keep his options open, including scrapping the little bit of transit he promised.

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Today is my last day writing for Streetsblog, after more than two and a half years of covering the country’s greatest transportation system. I am headed to law school in the fall, but before I leave I want to say goodbye to all our readers, without whose comments, tips, perspective and watchful eyes not a single Streetsblog article would be as good.

It’s amazing how much has changed since I started. Select Bus Service, which progressives had somehow rallied against just months before I started, is now wildly popular across the political spectrum. The Sheridan Expressway teardown went from a long-shot to a federally-funded project and back again. The city has finally turned its attention to bike infrastructure in under-served neighborhoods like East Harlem (stay tuned for some exciting news on that tomorrow) and Brownsville, even as bike-share and protected lanes are about to make Manhattan cycling explode. The state is now being run by a Nixonian, anti-transit political mastermind, who has left the MTA teetering on the brink of another disaster. It’ll be exciting to see what happens next, now from the perspective of a reader.

Please, stay in touch. I hope to keep working on these issues in and after law school — I’m the kind of person who ends up declaring “it’s parking all the way down” in almost every new city I visit and who has already pored over the New Haven zoning code — and your insights have been so invaluable these last few years. Thank you.