Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef said today he’s prepared to support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge, saying he sees a commitment from the administration toward the first phases of a rapid-transit system for the bridge.
Vanderhoef said he agrees with Cuomo’s position that it’s simply too expensive to immediately build a large-scale transit system along with the roughly $5 billion bridge. Cuomo said a bus-and-rail system could double the project’s cost.
“If it costs another $3 billion (for rapid transit), still we don’t have the money,” Vanderhoef said in an interview with Gannett’s Albany Bureau. “We don’t know how we are going to pay for the $5 billion (bridge). We are fiscally constrained to do much more, but if we think long term, even while we are doing something immediately, than I think it’s certainly a project to be supported.”
Vanderhoef’s support is critical. He and other Hudson Valley executives earlier this month delayed a vote of a regional transportation council on the bridge because they wanted more information about the project’s scope and cost.
And Vanderhoef’s support could isolate Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino, a fellow Republican who even as of yesterday said he couldn’t vote in favor of the bridge without additional details.
Barring any major surprises, Vanderhoef said he would be prepared to vote in favor of the project at the next meeting of New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, which will likely be held in September. The Republican county executive said an environmental impact statement on the bridge should be completed next month, while the four teams competing to build the bridge must submit their proposals by July 27.
The state may also have more information about the new toll structure by then, Vanderhoef said.
“Given the current information and the ongoing discussions, I think I would vote in favor of moving forward,” Vanderhoef said. “But that’s based on a whole lot of discussions, not a lot of information that I’ve received.”
Vanderhoef said he met last week with Cuomo’s top aide Larry Schwartz and Thruway Authority executive director Thomas Madison. And Vanderhoef said he spoke last week and yesterday with Cuomo, the Democratic governor.
“His message is he doesn’t want to have to spend another $5.2 billion on a BRT (bus rapid transit), and you know what? I agree,” Vanderhoef said. “You’re not going to do it now. But my message back is we need to think long term.”
Vanderhoef said he believes the Cuomo administration is thinking about the long-term needs of the bridge and the region’s transportation system. Cuomo has pledged that the bridge would be ready to have transit and bus lanes installed. And state officials last month said the new bridge would include exclusive bus lanes during rush hour, which would carry as many as 20,000 commuters each day.
About 138,000 cars and trucks cross the bridge each weekday. Vanderhoef said the commitment to dedicated bus lanes during rush hour was an important step forward.
“We still don’t have the information on the tolls. We don’t know how it’s going to be paid for. We’re anxious to know that,” Vanderhoef said. “But in the meantime, I see a new willingness of the state team, including the secretary to the governor, in working with us on it.”