County executives from Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties announced their support for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Tappan Zee Bridge project yesterday, clearing the way for the project to seek federal funding. The executives, who had withheld support until now, received two concessions: A guarantee of rush hour bus lanes on the new bridge, and the creation of a Regional Transit Task Force, which will report back in one year with recommendations for transit connections to the bridge. They also announced the creation of a working group that would focus on project financing and bridge tolls.
County executives from Putnam, Westchester and Rockland counties now back Gov. Cuomo's Tappan Zee Bridge project.
With this move, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell have cleared the way for a unanimous vote in support of the Tappan Zee project at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. NYMTC approval is required for federal sign-off on the project.
While yesterday’s announcement signals a new stage in the Tappan Zee saga, major questions remain about the state’s commitment to improving transit on the Rockland-Westchester I-287 corridor, and about the bridge’s shaky finances.
In a statement, Gov. Cuomo did not mention bus lanes, the transit task force or the financing working group, but simply thanked the county executives for their support. Yesterday’s announcement came after a flurry of endorsements by other elected officials trumpeted by the Cuomo administration.
One thing that’s certain now is that the “emergency access lanes” on the new bridge will be used as rush-hour bus lanes (despite an earlier promise from the Cuomo administration, this had remained in doubt until yesterday.) An open question is how the bridge’s bus lanes would connect to roadways on either side, though there are some hints. According to Rockland County Department of Planning spokesperson Susan Meyer, yesterday’s agreement does not involve “altering the bridge design or creating something new. We’re talking about using what we have.” This could include letting buses use the Thruway shoulder to reach the Palisades Center mall, on the Rockland County side of the bridge, and reusing an access ramp near the bridge for bus connections to Tarrytown, on the Westchester side.
Work on transit infrastructure improvements on either side of the bridge will have to wait at least a year, after the bridge is scheduled to begin construction. That’s when the new Regional Transit Task Force, announced yesterday, reports back with its recommendations. It’s not yet clear who will be appointing task force members, or how various government and advocacy interests will be represented.
The transit task force will look at commuter rail and BRT along portions of the I-287 corridor, with recommendations that could be implemented immediately as well as a longer-term look at the regional transit network. However, the task force is no substitute for the detailed transit planning process that the Cuomo administration abandoned last year. It’s unlikely the task force will examine a larger, regional BRT system like the one that had been considered under previous governors.
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign greeted yesterday’s news with caution, while calling the commitment to rush-hour bus lanes “a real victory.”