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Posts from the "Tappan Zee Bridge" Category

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The Tappan Zee Transit Task Force Has Issued Its Report. Now What?

Looks nice, but will the state follow through on building this system before the new Tappan Zee Bridge opens in 2018? Map: New NY Bridge

Nice transit map, but will it be complete when the new Tappan Zee Bridge opens in four years? Map: New NY Bridge

On Friday, the Tappan Zee Mass Transit Task Force released its final report [PDF], recommending bus improvements across Westchester and Rockland counties that could be completed when the new Hudson River span opens in 2018. But the path to implementation is vague at best. If these bus upgrades are going to materialize, task force members say it’s up to the governor to push for them.

The transit task force, created by Governor Cuomo in exchange for the backing of his bridge replacement plan by county executives more than 18 months ago, represents the first regional transit planning for the area since the governor ended previous Tappan Zee replacement studies three years ago.

Calling transit one of the “obstacles to building a replacement for the TZB,” the report says, “Governor Cuomo decided to put the development of transit proposals on a separate track from the bridge replacement project.”

The plan released Friday calls for a watered-down version of Bus Rapid Transit, with the potential for future bus or rail expansions after 2018. It is short on details about cost, funding, and implementation.

The bus system would use 50 buses on seven routes. Every route would have buses arrive every 10-15 minutes during peak hours and every 20-30 minutes at other times. The routes are focused on the I-287 corridor and downtown White Plains, with a few spurs to nearby destinations, plus Yonkers and the Bronx. The new system is expected to attract 10,150 new riders daily and speed bus trips by 25 percent on local roads and 20 percent on I-287.

Capital improvements to increase bus speed focus mostly on queue-jump lanes, which allow buses to get a head-start on traffic at red lights at selected intersections, and transit signal priority, which can hold green lights for buses.

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Cuomo Administration in Absolutely No Rush to Provide Tappan Zee Transit

After the state dumped transit in its rush to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge, Governor Cuomo announced a transit task force and promised to open the new bridge’s emergency shoulders to buses. But connections for bus riders on either side of the bridge remain a mystery, and the state continues to throw out overblown numbers as its task force is set to relegate land-side bus lanes to a study after the bridge opens in 2018.

Governor Cuomo made it an urgent priority to get shovels in the ground for the new, double-span Tappan Zee Bridge, but he’s shown no urgency to provide good transit options for the Hudson Valley. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

The state had previously pegged the cost of bus rapid transit at a lofty $5 billion, ignoring less expensive options and even factoring in unrelated car lanes to inflate the cost of BRT. But why stop at $5 billion? After a panel discussion at an American Planning Association conference on Friday, state DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald tossed around BRT cost estimates three to four times higher. “It shouldn’t be understated that coming up with 15 to 20 billion dollars to build those systems is a huge challenge,” she said. “It depends on how you define BRT.”

Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool challenged McDonald’s math. Tri-State has championed lower-cost solutions like bus lanes on I-287 and local streets, which both counties are interested in pursuing.

But even modest bus lanes on surface streets aren’t likely to get much attention from the state anytime soon. Vanterpool said the final report being prepared for the project’s transit task force will likely be released early next year and will recommend delaying a study of dedicated bus lanes until after the bridge opens in 2018. In the immediate future, the task force will focus on road efficiencies not specifically related to transit, like ramp meters, she said.

McDonald refused to discuss the task force recommendations. ”We’re in the final stages of our deliberations,” she said. “When the task force finalizes its deliberations, we’ll all be happy to discuss it.”

In the end, the future of transit in the region boils down to Andrew Cuomo. ”We’ve seen a commitment to building a bridge, but we’ve not yet seen a commitment to seeing that transit will be built in this corridor,” Vanterpool said. Tri-State is calling on the governor to commit to a timetable for implementing transit improvements and to appoint a second task force to oversee transit progress after the current group releases its recommendations.

On Friday, Tri-State is hosting a forum featuring BRT projects and experts from Cleveland, Connecticut, and elsewhere around the country. ”We want to show how it has been done in other states,” Vanterpool said.  ”It’s important to show the possibilities and when there’s vision and determination and commitment to a goal,” Vanterpool said. “We’ve not yet seen that with this project.”

There’s also the question of how the new bridge will be paid for. With a federal TIFIA loan all but certain, the governor is set to announce a toll and finance task force before the end of the year, according to Thruway Authority executive director Thomas J. Madison.

In its loan application, the Thruway Authority said the cost of the bridge could rise to $4.8 billion, significantly higher than the rosy recent estimates of $3.9 billion. The pricetag for the double-span, extra-wide bridge has raised alarm about the possibility that the project will need subsidies from the state budget — perhaps draining revenue from New York City transit. The state has recently been walking a fine line, trying to reassure drivers that the rest of the Thruway system won’t subsidize the Tappan Zee, and that Tappan Zee tolls won’t rise in the immediate future.

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Ravitch: The Next Mayor Must Get Serious About Congestion Pricing

The next mayor will have to take the lead on transportation funding challenges that, while difficult to address in campaign speeches, are critical to the city’s future, former lieutenant governor and MTA chairman Richard Ravitch said today at a Fordham University infrastructure forum.

Richard Ravitch says the next mayor will have to get behind congestion pricing, whether it's an election topic or not. Image: Wikimedia

Ravitch said that while raising fares to cover the MTA’s operating expenses is acceptable, using fare hikes to cover debt service for infrastructure investment — which is already happening — is highly problematic. “That’s when it begins to hurt,” he told Streetsblog after his afternoon panel wrapped up. There needs to be a new source of revenue for the MTA’s capital program, and congestion pricing is necessary, Ravitch added.

The next mayor will need to make congestion pricing a top-tier priority and work with Albany to make it happen, Ravitch said. (The other top priorities he mentioned are dealing with union contracts and retiree health care costs.) But Ravitch isn’t hopeful that a productive discussion will break out during the mayoral campaign.

“They probably won’t be talking about what they should be talking about,” he said. “It’s hard to get elected on a platform of increasing taxes. The next mayor’s going to have to do that.”

With shrinking federal support for transportation, the burden of investment will fall to the local tax base. “The planning commission has done a great job in rezoning large parts of the city, particularly in the outer boroughs,” Ravitch said, but he wants to drastically ramp up outer-borough growth to help generate revenue. ”There is plenty of space; it’s a question of density and access,” he said.

But there’s one rezoning project that Ravitch remains skeptical of: East Midtown. “I’m personally not yet persuaded that that’s a good idea,” he said, saying that without major investment, the additional subway crowding and traffic congestion will be serious.

Although the city has proposed transit capacity improvements funded by new development, Ravitch is skeptical of geographically-targeted funding mechanisms, such as the 7 train extension, to address challenges that are regional in nature.

He is, however, bullish on the Tappan Zee Bridge’s chances to win a federal TIFIA loan. When Streetsblog asked how the multi-billion dollar loan will be repaid, given the Cuomo administration’s apparent lack of will to raise Thruway tolls, Ravitch said that TIFIA’s low interest rates are enough to keep repayment costs under control. ”They’re going to solve the Tappan Zee Bridge problem,” he said.

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Does Cuomo’s Budget Include Tappan Zee Subsidies?

Governor Cuomo’s state budget proposal includes hundreds of millions of dollars in discretionary spending for what one administration official has called “transformational projects.” It’s not clear what the loosely-defined pot of money will be used for, but so far the rhetoric indicates that Cuomo’s wide, transit-less, double-span Tappan Zee replacement bridge could be one recipient.

Cuomo's budget includes discretionary money for "transformational projects." Photo: @NYGovCuomo/Twitter

This morning, the New York Daily News reported that Cuomo’s budget includes a huge $3 billion bucket of discretionary spending for the governor, including “$720 million in new capital funding for ‘transformative’ projects over the next few years.”

The financing plan for the Tappan Zee Bridge has always been vague. The Thruway Authority has already borrowed $500 million to start paying for the $3.9 billion project, and the Cuomo administration is hoping to get billions more in low-interest financing from the federal TIFIA program. (New York faces stiff competition from 28 other projects all clamoring for a piece of the $7.5 billion in available assistance.) The amount that can be obtained from TIFIA is capped at 49 percent of the total project cost, so that leaves a significant gap to be filled.

The fear has always been that Cuomo will prop up the super-sized highway bridge with general fund dollars, especially since his administration has already caved on using tolls to cover the cost of roads. The pot of vaguely-defined discretionary funds in Cuomo’s budget could include general fund support for the Tappan Zee replacement.

Streetsblog reached out to the governor’s office for more information on how these discretionary funds will be spent, but has yet to receive a reply.

Elsewhere in this year’s budget, you can see evidence of road subsidies creeping upward to make up for Cuomo’s lack of determination to raise tolls: The budget includes an increase in state support for the Thruway Authority to cover costs that would have been covered by a truck toll hike, which the governor-appointed Thruway Authority board canceled in December.

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Thruway Authority, Not Cuomo, Announces Tappan Zee Transit Task Force

On Friday afternoon, the New York State Thruway Authority announced the 28 members of the Tappan Zee Bridge Mass Transit Task Force. Unlike the announcement of the committee that picked the winning bid to build to bridge, the task force announcement was made by the Thruway Authority, not Governor Cuomo himself, who has otherwise put himself front-and-center as the project’s public face. The announcement came nearly four months after the executives of Rockland, Westchester, and Putnam counties agreed to the task force in exchange for signing off on the Tappan Zee Bridge plan.

Proposal 1, the recommended option for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Transit sold separately. Image: Thruway Authority

The panel has no binding authority, but if better transit along the I-287 corridor can be salvaged from the Tappan Zee project, the path forward starts with the transit task force. It includes local and county electeds, transportation professionals, and representatives of the business community — but strangely fails to include anyone from the MTA, which was one of the original conveners of the Traffic and Transit working group in the Tappan Zee planning process that Cuomo abandoned last year.

Sources had indicated to Streetsblog that members of the task force would be named after the bridge’s design selection committee had made a recommendation to the governor, because some individuals would serve in both groups. The task force and the design committee have nine members in common: DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald, Deputy Secretary for Transportation Karen Rae, Mark Roche of consulting firm Arup, Thruway board member Brandon Sall, Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association, village mayors Tish Dubow and Drew Fixell, and county executives Rob Astorino and C. Scott Vanderhoef.

Before the deal was reached to let the transit-less bridge move forward, a number of counties and towns had called on Cuomo to restore transit to the TZB project. One of the good signs in Friday’s announcement is that they are represented on the task force. The task force members who had signed on to TZB transit efforts led by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (represented on the task force by executive director Veronica Vanterpool) include the county executives, Tarrytown’s Fixell, Assembly Member Amy Paulin, and State Senators David Carlucci and Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

On the other side, task force member Marsha Gordon of the Business Council of Westchester County was a major cheerleader for Cuomo’s transit-less bridge proposal, and Assembly Member Ellen Jaffee was an early endorser.

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Focused on Climate Change, Will Cuomo Reconsider the Transit-Less TZB?

In August, three county executives supported Governor Cuomo’s Tappan Zee Bridge plan in exchange for a “transit task force” that would study how to strengthen transit between Rockland and Westchester counties. At the time, advocates greeted the announcement with cautious optimism, awaiting details on the task force from the governor.

Governor Cuomo has said a lot about protecting against the impacts of climate change, but not much about preventing the worst scenarios. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

They’re still waiting.

“It’s been three months since the announcement of a transit task force,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which has a clock on its website counting the seconds since the governor made his promise.

In three months, Cuomo has not created the task force or announced any appointments. A Cuomo spokesperson did not respond to Streetsblog’s inquiries about the issue.

This stands in contrast to how quickly Cuomo moved in all other aspects of his bridge plan. “We cannot wait any longer,” the governor said about the bridge in June. “Now is the time for action.”

Even before Hurricane Sandy began to consume Cuomo’s attention nearly three weeks ago, he had shown little interest in moving forward on Tappan Zee transit. Today, while the governor has begun to make climate change a signature issue, there’s still no indication that he’s reconsidering the cars-only bridge his administration has been pushing.

So far, Cuomo has spoken aggressively about fortifying against the impacts of climate change, without addressing its causes. “The number of extreme weather patterns is going up. That’s a fact,” Cuomo said at a post-storm press conference on November 1. “We can debate the cause. The effect is the same.”

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Hasty Vote on Cuomo’s TZ Bridge May Violate Federal Rules [Updated]

Now that the Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam county executives have signaled their support for a new Tappan Zee Bridge, the Cuomo administration is again pushing the project forward at a furious pace. So fast, in fact, that it may violate federal rules.

Friday afternoon in August? Time to quietly give notice about a hastily convened vote on the region's biggest infrastructure project. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

Notice went out this afternoon that the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council will vote on the bridge Monday morning at 9:30. The vote is a critical step toward receiving federal financing for the bridge, and holding it so soon after NYMTC gave notice appears to violate the agency’s federally mandated Public Involvement Plan.

According to a draft of NYMTC’s plan from April 2012 [PDF] (the only version currently accessible on the agency’s website, most of which happens to be down at the moment):

All official meetings of NYMTC, its TCCs and its designated committees convened to conduct the public business of NYMTC are open to the public and are subject to the following procedures:

1. Public notice of official meetings will be made a minimum of two weeks prior to the meeting in a manner consistent with Section 1 of these procedures.

a. In the event of emergency official meetings, notice will be posted on the website and through social media a minimum of 72 hours in advance of the meeting.

It’s not clear what qualifies as an “emergency meeting” but this one was scheduled so quickly it even violates the 72-hour rule.

UPDATE: A NYMTC spokesperson says the agency has yet to finally adopt the Public Involvement Plan, and that all the internal procedures for Monday’s meeting are in order. Citing the state’s open meetings law, NYMTC also says the agency is only required to give notification “to the extent practicable” and “at a reasonable time prior thereto,” because this meeting was scheduled less than a week in advance. The law sets out higher standards for public notice regarding meetings that are scheduled at least a week ahead of time. So the Cuomo administration is taking full advantage of the fact that the more you rush important public meetings in New York state, the less notice you have to provide.

While Cuomo seems to have the votes in hand, the county execs apparently weren’t expecting such a hasty vote when they announced their support for the bridge yesterday. At yesterday’s press conference, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said he expected the vote to come in September.

There are good reasons for Astorino and the other execs to demand more time.

  • There’s still no financial plan to speak of. Two weeks ago, Cuomo administration officials let slip that covering the full cost of the bridge would necessitate tripling current Tappan Zee tolls. Then the governor backtracked from raising tolls that high. No one really knows how the state will pay for this bridge.
  • While the county execs got promises of a “Regional Transit Task Force” in exchange for their votes, it hasn’t been revealed who will sit on the task force, or who will appoint them. A group composed of independent experts with solid transportation and land use chops could be much more effective at keeping up the pressure for Rockland-Westchester transit than a group of Cuomo yes-men.

Ironically, the announcement from NYMTC comes while the agency has been touting its new effort to get the public involved in long-range regional planning.

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County Execs Support Cuomo’s TZB in Exchange for Study Groups

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.

tzbconference

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.”

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Fend Off the Tappan Zee Death Spiral With a Bridge Diet

Options to reduce the excessive width of the two spans Andrew Cuomo is planning to build to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. Cost savings are rough estimates. Image: Charles Komanoff

Bloomberg reports today that Governor Andrew Cuomo has charged the Thruway Authority with appointing a panel to  ”find alternatives, revenue generators and cost reductions that reduce the potential toll increases” on the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge. The Cuomo administration revealed late last week that the superwide, transit-less replacement bridge — estimated to cost $5.2 billion — would require nearly tripling current toll rates to cover its costs. Apparently the reaction to news of $14 cash tolls and daily commuter tolls approaching $9 is causing some kind of reappraisal from the governor.

This could lead in a number of directions, including a worst-case scenario where NYC transit riders end up paying higher fares to indirectly cover bridge costs. But if Cuomo focuses on cost reductions, the risk of a Tappan Zee bailout won’t be so high.

It’s important to keep in mind that the problem with Cuomo’s Tappan Zee is not the high tolls — it’s the size of the replacement bridge he wants to build. Because the bridge is so unnecessarily large, it may be impossible to cover the costs with tolls – the “death spiral” scenario that analyst Charles Komanoff warned of in March [PDF].

The gold-plated highway bridge Cuomo has proposed contains two basic extravagances:

  • It would consist of two separate structures, one westbound and one eastbound, each of which could essentially do the same job as today’s Tappan Zee. It is intentionally redundant: The Thruway Authority’s “Project Alternatives” report justifies the double-span design in part by noting that “in the event that an incident or extreme event would require the closure of one structure, the second structure could remain open to traffic.”
  • Put together, the two spans would approximately double the width of the current bridge, even though fewer vehicles are expected to use it, thanks to rising tolls. The extra width comes in large part from adding shoulders and “emergency access” lanes — a feature unheard of on other bridges.

Each span of the new Tappan Zee Bridge would be as wide as the current bridge.

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With Tolls Projected to Nearly Triple, New TZB Risks Financial Death Spiral

Well, this explains why the Cuomo administration has been so reluctant to discuss how to pay for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. At a public meeting last night, Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz told the crowd that cash tolls would rise to $14 on the replacement bridge, with a slight discount for E-ZPass holders ($13.40) and a deeper discount for regular commuters ($8.40), the Journal News reports.

Governor Andrew Cuomo could be looking at a financial "death spiral" for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

Those tolls would nearly triple current rates — $5 cash toll, $4.75 E-ZPass, and $3 for commuters — confirming the analysis by Charles Komanoff published on Streetsblog back in January.

Of course, the new, double-span bridge, which would be twice as wide as the current one, may not even provide rush-hour bus lanes for commuters who want a more affordable option.

At least Schwartz has now come clean about what it would take to pay for the bridge, but it is remarkable that the Cuomo administration is only now putting this figure before the public, after final bids have been submitted to construct the $5 billion project. The ballpark cost of $5 billion has been the standard reference point since the Cuomo administration ditched the transit components of the bridge last fall.

Komanoff was out in front on this one, and his warning from January is especially resonant in light of this new information. If tolls rise, trips across the bridge will fall, possibly to the point where revenue would not be sufficient to cover the carrying costs of the bridge. Komanoff referred to this scenario as a “death spiral” in which the new bridge simply can’t pay for itself.

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