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Posts from the "Tappan Zee Bridge" Category

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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.”

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Cuomo Admin Applies Double Standard to Cars and Buses on Tappan Zee

The Cuomo administration is counting only the costs for transit and only the benefits for drivers as it pushes for a transit-less Tappan Zee Bridge. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

When it comes to building a new Tappan Zee Bridge for drivers, the Cuomo administration says there’s no time to waste and only a gold-plated, super-wide span will do. But don’t ask them how they plan to pay for it, or how high tolls will be.

When it comes to building a new Tappan Zee Bridge transit system, the Cuomo administration says it needs years to meticulously craft every detail with local communities and can’t afford even relatively cheap improvements. They’re happy, however, to throw around scary numbers about how high tolls will go once you build some bus infrastructure.

It’s a brazen double standard, one crafted to make the case for a bloated highway bridge while finding a way to get to “No” on transit.

Take, for example, the administration’s attitude toward the need for public outreach on the one hand and speed on the other. “Anybody who drives over the TZB on any kind of frequency knows on a Friday night or a Sunday night or god forbid if there is an accident on the bridge, you literally could be stranded for hours,” said Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz at a forum held by the Journal News this morning. “It’s needed. The time is long overdue. We’ve studied the bridge to death.”

Compare that to the administration’s position on adding transit. When asked whether there was even a timetable for studying a bus rapid transit system, Schwartz responded, “We don’t have a plan yet. To have a plan would mean we’ve excluded the input of County Executive Astorino and County Executive Vanderhoef and all the other stakeholders.”

Schwartz said that to add a BRT system, the state would have to study the economic impact of transit on local businesses, the impact on quality of life for residents, and the potential for transit to create additional traffic. Mark Roche, an engineer consulting for the state, said they would have to re-do the origin and destination surveys that were used to estimate demand for transit, given the changes to the region in recent years. “You got to take your time and come up with all the answers,” said Schwartz.

State officials showed a similar double standard when it came to the cost of new infrastructure. For the highway elements of the bridge, there was no attempt to justify the price tag.

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Without Big Toll Hikes, Cuomo’s Tappan Zee Puts Transit Riders at Risk

Andrew Cuomo’s Tappan Zee Bridge does next to nothing for transit riders; the governor is unwilling to spend even $150 million on incremental transit improvements, much less put in the work to design a full transit corridor. But could it also hurt the existing transit system? If Cuomo isn’t willing to make drivers pay the full cost of the bridge, it could. Every dollar for the Tappan Zee that doesn’t come from tolls is a dollar that Albany won’t give the MTA.

If Andrew Cuomo won't stand his ground over a Thruway truck toll hike, that bodes poorly for funding his massive Tappan Zee Bridge replacement with tolls. And if bridge users don't pay the cost of the project, someone else will. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

Currently, almost all Thruway operations are paid for with toll revenue. But it’s possible that state of affairs could break down very quickly. A 45 percent toll hike on trucks — which is “imperative” according to Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison — might be scuttled in the face of opposition from both Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

And then there’s the Tappan Zee Bridge. Thanks to a bloated design that more than doubles the width of the existing bridge, the new double span will cost between $5 billion and $6 billion. As of yet, there’s no plan for how to pay for all of that.

It may not be possible to do so with tolls alone. Analyst Charles Komanoff estimated that to pay for the new bridge without another revenue source, an E-ZPass toll of $15 would be necessary. But the state has all but ruled out tolls that high. Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison told the Citizens Budget Commission in May that tolls on the new Tappan Zee would be “consistent with other Hudson River crossings.” The peak E-ZPass toll on the George Washington Bridge is only $9.50, and even the cash toll is just $12.

Nor can tolls from the rest of the Thruway system fill the gap. Madison said the state has “no intent” of raising tolls system-wide to pay for the new Tappan Zee, and if the 45 percent truck toll hike doesn’t go through, the upstate segments of the Thruway may be in no position to contribute anyway.

The constraints on tolling could be even tighter still. Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef has called for a toll discount for residents of his county; local officials like Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner have called for the same on the Westchester side of the river.

As the Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas wrote in the New York Post last month, “The numbers don’t add up any more than they did in spring.”

When asked whether the state would commit to using only toll revenues for the bridge, a Cuomo spokesperson pointed to these comments from the governor:

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Despite Cuomo Admin Claims, Westchester Is Interested in On-Street BRT

The state's proposed path, circa 2011, for an on-street bus rapid transit system on the Westchester side of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The transit corridor would primarily run along Route 119 between the new bridge and White Plains. Click for a larger version. Image: Transit Alignment Options Report

The Cuomo administration keeps finding obstacles to Tappan Zee Bridge transit that don’t exist. Chief among them is a phony $5 billion price tag, but there are others as well.

One example is the purported local opposition to running transit on existing streets, rather than in highway medians or on expensive new viaducts. The governor’s office has said that “community opposition” to on-street bus rapid transit precludes the construction of more affordable BRT options. But Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino explicitly endorsed on-street BRT on the Brian Lehrer Show yesterday. A spokesperson even offered a favored route. “Community opposition,” it seems, is just one more excuse not to pursue Tappan Zee transit.

Though the Cuomo administration has repeatedly invoked a $5 billion price tag for building a 30-mile BRT corridor, much cheaper options are available. The governor’s figure includes billions of dollars in highway improvements, many of which are unrelated to transit, and studies only an infrastructure-intensive plan to run BRT on a brand-new elevated busway.

Last month, Streetsblog asked the governor’s office why the state wasn’t looking at more cost-effective alternatives, including running buses on existing roads on the Westchester side of the bridge. The cheapest option, said Cuomo spokesperson Matt Wing, “proposed having the bus travel through regular streets in Westchester, taking away lanes from cars, with some extra space added in certain areas where the streets weren’t wide enough. Westchester county and the local communities strongly opposed this option.” Wing later added that many locals had feared that putting transit on existing surface streets would cause too much congestion.

But on yesterday’s radio interview, Astorino contradicted the Cuomo administration’s assumptions. “What we’re asking for is the basics,” the county executive said. “Using sensors, using traffic lights the right way, using dedicated lanes in and out of existing roadways.”

Streetsblog confirmed with Astorino spokesperson Phil Oliva that the county was open to using its existing roadways, particularly Route 119, for a new BRT system.

When the state was pursuing Tappan Zee transit, it identified Route 119 as the best on-street route from Tarrytown to White Plains and had begun to generate a detailed, block-by-block alignment. That option, which still included road widenings and even new viaducts in a few locations, would have cost about $1 billion if it extended all the way to Port Chester. Built out to only White Plains, as Astorino proposed, and without the most expensive infrastructure, it could cost significantly less.

No one ever said building a new rapid transit system for the Hudson Valley would be easy. But the Cuomo administration apparently wants it to be much harder than it really is.

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Cuomo to Co-Host Tappan Zee Public Meetings With Anti-Transit Ideologues

Governor Andrew Cuomo has invited the region's leading anti-transit advocates to co-host his Tappan Zee Bridge public meetings with him. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

Up to now, the Cuomo administration hasn’t shown a great regard for public input when it comes to the new Tappan Zee Bridge. The administration dismissed five stakeholder advisory groups, which had been set up to let interested parties dig deep into the details of the project, and shuttered the public outreach offices located on each side of the Hudson.

Today, the Cuomo administration sent out a press release announcing a new set of community meetings. And the details of these meetings tell you everything you need to know about Cuomo’s take on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The two meetings, scheduled for July 25 and 26, are sponsored by the Business Council of Westchester and the Rockland Business Association. Business Council chief Marsha Gordon serves as the president of BuildTheBridgeNowNY.org, which offers this take on Tappan Zee transit:

The reality is that the patterns of most Americans reveals in consumer survey after survey that the overwhelming majority of people prefer to live in a house with a yard, drive a car to work and for shopping.

As such, it’s probably unrealistic to expect a mass migration to mass transit. The latest auto show in Detroit unveiled vehicles that have morphed into smartphones with four wheels and an ever-increasing fuel efficient engine. Even the least expensive cars today are smart, fun and sexy; why would anyone ever want to leave them?

Gordon’s Rockland equivalent, Al Samuels, is also a BuildTheBridgeNowNY.org member, and he has his own unique qualification for hosting public meetings.

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Even a Paltry $150M For Tappan Zee Transit Is Too Much For Andrew Cuomo

Earlier this week, Streetsblog reported that Governor Andrew Cuomo is dishonestly overstating the cost of building Tappan Zee Bridge transit. Cuomo has repeatedly said that building a 30-mile bus rapid transit system would cost $5 billion, and that the state can’t afford to spend that much. But that number is inflated by the inclusion of billions of dollars in highway improvements, like new climbing lanes for trucks, many of which are entirely unrelated to providing transit.

By repeating the false $5 billion number, the governor is not only overstating the cost of a built-out, full-featured bus rapid transit corridor, he’s also glossing over low-cost, incremental steps toward better bus service, steps which his administration has refused to take. One of the small, high-impact steps that transit advocates have called for involves building less than a mile of infrastructure to better connect bus riders to Metro-North. Those calls have gone unheeded by the governor so far.

“In theory is a mass transit system across the state a great idea? Of course, of course,” said Cuomo in a press conference held Tuesday. “The question then becomes the reality of the situation, and the cost of the situation. And to put in a bus system now, for Rockland County and Westchester would roughly double the cost, from five billion to ten billion.”

A ramp off the new Tappan Zee Bridge would help get bus riders to the Tarrytown Metro-North station at a fraction of the cost of a full BRT system (also shown in this diagram), but the Cuomo administration isn't pursuing that option either. Image: Transit Alignment Options Report

But “five billion” is not the deal breaker. It appears that there is almost no cost that Cuomo is willing to pay for mass transit.

“This is a red herring that it’s going to cost $5 billion to do BRT and therefore we’re not going to do anything,” said Jeff Zupan, a senior fellow with the Regional Plan Association.

In February, Zupan testified before state officials as part of the official public comment period for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. He argued that given the lack of funding, it wasn’t necessary to build the full bus rapid transit system simultaneously with the new bridge, but that the state should take additional steps to improve transit in the short term [PDF].

“The new bridge should include a three-quarter mile bus-only ramp at the Westchester County side at the time the new bridge is built for buses to directly reach the Tarrytown train station, providing a congestion-free link between bus and rail,” Zupan said in February. “This ramp needs to be integrated into the initial construction of the bridge.”

In a newly released document from last year, the state estimated that a Tarrytown connector and new Tarrytown BRT station would cost just $151 million, including all soft costs [PDF]. Yet despite the low pricetag, Zupan said, the state has not taken any of the necessary steps to build this small but important addition to the bridge. “To date, they haven’t responded,” he said, “and from what I understand, they haven’t asked the bidders to provide a separate cost estimate for the option of building a bus ramp to the Tarrytown station.”

The governor’s office has not responded to Streetsblog inquiries about the Tarrytown connector.

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State Reports Belie Cuomo’s Claim That Tappan Zee Transit Will Cost $5B

Governor Andrew Cuomo claims that a bus rapid transit system would cost $5 billion to build. But newly released state documents show that number includes billions of dollars in highway improvements, with transit costs actually much lower. Depending on the scenario, the administration is counting between $1 billion and $3 billion in highway costs (the left column) toward the cost of building bus rapid transit.

At the beginning of the week, Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a media offensive to defend his decision to halt all work on building new transit infrastructure across the Tappan Zee Bridge. “The bus system would roughly double the cost of the bridge,” Cuomo told radio host Fred Dicker.

But according to recently released state documents reviewed by Streetsblog, Cuomo’s claim is false. Even a gold-plated bus rapid transit system from Suffern to Port Chester would not cost the $5 billion that Cuomo says it would. The $5 billion figure includes between $1 billion and $3 billion worth of highway improvements, many of which are entirely unrelated to building transit.

The newly available documents, which date from late 2010 and early 2011, were first obtained by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. Only after Tri-State received the documents did the Cuomo administration post them on its Tappan Zee Bridge website.

The Cuomo administration states that building a full BRT corridor would cost between $4.5 billion and $5.3 billion, depending on the design selected. “The $5 billion we estimate simply accounts for the costs of adding new dedicated lanes to the highways on each side of the bridge, and that doesn’t even include an extra $80 million in operating cost for running the stations and the buses,” said Cuomo spokesperson Matt Wing.

A state document emphasizes that climbing lanes like this are for trucks and cars, not transit. Including the cost of climbing lanes has increased the price tag of bus rapid transit by nearly half a billion dollars.

But a document from May 2011, before the Cuomo administration canceled the transit components of the Tappan Zee project, makes clear that those totals include enormous sums dedicated to highway improvements along I-287, not transit [PDF]. Between $1.04 billion and $3.14 billion of those estimates, the document says, are for highway improvements.

The Cuomo administration has justified including billions of dollars in highway spending in its BRT cost estimates by arguing that they are necessary to build the bus system. The new state documents reviewed by Streetsblog show that this, too, is false.

Exactly what those billions of dollars of highway improvements include is difficult to ascertain. In earlier versions of the Tappan Zee project, the state simultaneously pursued a bus rapid transit system, I-287 expansions, and a new commuter rail service into Rockland County. All of those costs are tied up together in planning documents from the time.

But some of the costs for each component can be disentangled, and it is clear that not all the highway spending is necessary for high-quality bus service.

A “Highway Improvement Report” produced in November 2010 lays out some of the I-287 spending [PDF]. The Cuomo administration’s Tappan Zee website claims that this report “explains the additional requirements necessary due to the transit systems,” and Wing confirmed that the report’s recommendations were included in the administration’s estimates of BRT costs.

The first item in the report, however, has nothing to do with transit. The Highway Improvement Report suggests constructing climbing lanes in Rockland County to allow passenger vehicles to pass slow-moving trucks on uphill stretches. Bus service, which would run in its own dedicated lanes, would not be affected by the climbing lanes. The cost of these extra lanes alone was estimated at $446 million.

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County Execs Want More Details Before Voting on Tappan Zee Replacement

Faced with a crucial vote that could have set federal funding in motion for the Cuomo administration’s transit-less Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, three county leaders have asked for more information before signing off on the project.

County execs Astorino, Vanderhoef and Odell aren't ready to sign off on the Cuomo administration's transit-less Tappan Zee project.

The Journal News reports that Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Orange County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell postponed the vote scheduled for July 10, saying they want to see the Final Environmental Impact Statement first. Any of the three county execs can effectively veto the Tappan Zee project using their seats on the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council — the regional body that serves as intermediary between the feds and state and local transportation agencies.

Astorino and Vanderhoef have repeatedly called for Cuomo to make a more robust commitment to a multi-modal bridge, after the administration discarded plans for transit that were years in the making. Their request to postpone the NYMTC vote indicates that, so far, they are willing to follow through on their public statements. Odell’s request is somewhat unexpected since she had not signed on to the pro-transit coalition statement. Her decision to align with the other two execs may indicate the breadth of support in the Hudson Valley for a full-fledged transit corridor along the bridge and I-287.

The FEIS is expected to be released before the end of the month, and the NYMTC vote has yet to be re-scheduled. While it’s still anyone’s guess whether the postponement of the vote will lead to a better bridge (Thruway Authority director Thomas Madison told the Journal News that it would “in no way delay the project”), it will certainly lead to a better understanding of what the region would get under the Cuomo plan, and how residents would pay for it. As of today, critical information about project financing and the cost assumptions that led the state to abandon plans for transit remains unknown.

“The county executives, and the public, have been asking the same questions since October and have gotten few answers,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “NYMTC members have an obligation to be fully informed before they can vote on a project like the Tappan Zee Bridge, which has such significant regional implications. How can NYMTC members vote on whether the new bridge project should be part of the regional plan when they don’t even know the final environmental implications of the project? Fast-tracking a project shouldn’t compromise transparency.”

In recent correspondence with Streetsblog, the governor’s press office has shared more of the administration’s thinking about the Tappan Zee plans. We’ll be reporting what we’ve learned in the days ahead.

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Cuomo Admin Makes Small First Move to Improve Transit on Tappan Zee

In addition to two shoulders in each direction, plans for the new Tappan Zee Bridge include "emergcncy access" lanes, an unheard of feature on new bridges. The Cuomo administration now says the emergency lanes can be used for rush hour bus service. Click to enlarge.

Last night Hudson Valley commuters got their first taste of good news when it comes to building transit across the Tappan Zee Bridge. As reported by the Journal News’ Khurram Saeed, the Cuomo administration now says it will allow buses to use the “emergency access” lanes it intends to build on both spans of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, though only during rush hour.

Letting buses run in the emergency lanes would be an easy and essentially cost-free way to make bus rides across the bridge a little faster. The emergency lanes will be built in addition to full-width shoulders on both sides of traffic, a feature unheard of on other major new bridges. All that space is primed to be converted either into bus lanes or more room for cars.

Advocates for Tappan Zee transit applauded the decision, but said it isn’t a substitute for real bus rapid transit along the corridor. “It’s an important step in the right direction,” Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef told the Journal News. Vanderhoef had previously proposed running buses in the extra lanes.

In a statement Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool said this should be the start of further accommodations for transit from the Cuomo administration:

This is an important first step, and a small victory, to improve bus commutes for hundreds of existing daily bus riders who idle in gridlock along with cars and trucks. Disappointingly, the dedicated bus lane will only be in operation on the bridge itself, not within the I-287 corridor, and only during rush hour…

Modern buses, new signal technology, off-board fare collection, and dedicated bus lanes—the key elements of a bus rapid transit system—speed bus commutes and incentivize people to ride the system. Without these combined amenities, bus riders will not benefit from an improved system, only brief congestion relief while crossing the bridge. Commuters and residents have indicated they want more.

Streetsblog has been corresponding with the governor’s press office about the use of these emergency lanes for transit service, the possibility of extending bus lanes on either side of the bridge, and a number of other design issues. Next week, we hope to be able to provide more information about how allowing buses to use these lanes fits into the broader goal of building a full bus rapid transit system.

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The Tappan Zee Questions Cuomo Won’t Answer and the Times Won’t Ask

Governor Andrew Cuomo isn't telling the public -- or the New York Times -- important facts about his plans for a new Tappan Zee Bridge. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

After reporting yesterday that the Westchester and Rockland county executives have the power to put the brakes on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plans for a new Tappan Zee Bridge built without transit, Streetsblog received an email from Cuomo spokesperson Matt Wing. Wing, who has in the past told us that we were not to contact the governor’s office for Tappan Zee questions, but send them instead to the Thruway Authority, complained that we hadn’t reached out to him and insisted that we include this statement:

“If streetsblog cared at all about the facts and fairness, they would for once report that we are investing 300 million dollars to ensure the new bridge can accommodate mass transit on day 1 – if streetsblog and the county executives support spending an extra 5 billion dollars on building mass transit systems in the counties on either side of the bridge, that’s a different story entirely.”

There’s a lot wrong with that statement, but it’s a welcome development that the governor’s office is ready to engage with us on the facts. Now that we’ve entered into a productive dialogue, here are some questions for the Cuomo administration that we’ve been trying to get answered, to no avail:

  • How did the state determine that bus rapid transit would cost $5 billion? In 2009, cost estimates by the state for a 30-mile transit corridor ranged from $897 million to $2.5 billion. Under Cuomo, that number has gone up between two and five times, and no justification has been provided. The local American Planning Association chapter believes “the costs associated with the BRT option appear to be inflated.” Show us the math.
  • Who is going to pay for the new bridge? The state still hasn’t released a plan to fund or finance the new Tappan Zee, even as it moves toward construction. Will the Tappan Zee be paid for with $16 tolls across the bridge, toll hikes hitting the entire Thruway system up through Buffalo, or tax dollars from New York’s millions of car-free families? Will the bridge be paid for responsibly, or with debt that will saddle the state for generations? Thruway head Tom Madison and Cuomo have both refused to say.
  • Why is transit considered “unaffordable”? Right now, there’s just as clear a sense of how to pay for the transit-less bridge as there would be for how to add in transit: none at all. Moreover, why is it affordable to build the new bridge to be literally twice as wide as the current span rather than opt for a more modest upgrade or rehab?
  • How exactly does the new span not preclude the inclusion of transit? The Cuomo administration has made much of the fact that while it isn’t building any transit infrastructure across the Tappan Zee Bridge, it isn’t actively blocking the later addition of transit. But there’s little proof that the state’s designs cross even that low bar. For example, buses would theoretically be allowed to run along the new span’s extra-wide shoulders. But those shoulders narrow to only six feet wide near one end of the bridge, not wide enough for a bus. How would transit actually fit? The administration isn’t saying.

We’re looking forward to printing the answers.

One place that should be shedding some light on the opaque process surrounding the planning of the new Tappan Zee Bridge is the New York Times, which ran an article on the project today. After running multiple stories and an editorial on the distraction that was the Tappan Zee Bridge greenway, the paper of record has at long last finally mentioned the biggest story about the bridge: the missing transit.

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