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Posts from the "Tappan Zee Bridge" Category

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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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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.