Gov. Andrew Cuomo today sent a letter to the Thruway Authority regarding the Tappan Zee Bridge.
In the letter, he discusses what he thinks are the benefits to his plan for a new bridge that will not immediately include mass-transit but will be prepared to accommodate it in the future.
“New York has a history of innovation, inclusion and of rising to the most difficult of tests,” he wrote. “I am confident that the work done to date in the (Final Environmental Impact Statement) and the steps outlined here will continue the momentum for the Tappan Zee project and will move the state and the region forward.”
Here’s the letter in full:
Dear Chairman Milstein and Director Madison:
I have reviewed the recently released Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). I applaud the hundreds of citizens who have attended public meetings in recent weeks to learn more about the FEIS and the thousands more who took the time to add their comments in writing.
I am pleased by a number of elements of the FEIS and the Thruways’ design specifications:
—The inclusion of mass transit capability on the bridge. As reflected in the FEIS and the Thruway’s design specifications, the bridge will be able to accommodate virtually any kind of future mass transit configuration, whether commuter rail, or a Bus Rapid Transit system in the Westchester-Rockland corridor. The bridge will be able to accommodate a dedicated bus lane from day one. There can be no question that the future of transportation in the region is mass transit, and our immediate need to replace the Tappan Zee with a transit-capable bridge must be the first step in the expansion of regional transit.
It will cost nearly the same to repair the current bridge as it would to build a new bridge. Yet only repairing the current bridge does not solve any of the problems motorists and resident face today: no shoulders, no emergency access, congestion and backed up traffic with air and noise pollution- and repairing closes the door to any kind of transit on the bridge. By contrast, a new bridge brings not only transit capacity, but expanded lanes to reduce congestion, and accommodate emergency vehicles, breakdown lanes, and pedestrian and bike access – and a 100 year life before major maintenance. At a cost in the same range as repairing the bridge.
· State of the art environmental mitigation measures ensure that the natural environment will be protected. The steps that will be used include “bubble curtains” to protect fish from the noise of pile driving, using vibration instead of pile driving whenever possible to set piles, and limits on dredging and other protection measures that will protect wildlife in the unique Hudson River environment.
· Protecting local communities from construction impact By limiting pile-driving to certain hours, installing air and noise monitors in impacted areas, and bringing the vast majority of materials to the bridge by river barge and avoiding local roads, the FEIS helps ensure that communities will be inconvenienced will to the minimum possible
These are all good steps, and since the publication of the FEIS, local officials throughout the region have come together in an unprecedented bipartisan fashion to express their support for this bridge replacement project. They agree that spending billions to simply repair the current bridge won’t fix the accident rate, the congestion, or the air and noise pollution that Westchester and Rockland residents live with now. They recognize that the existing Tappan Zee bridge is inadequate to the transportation and economic needs of the lower Hudson Valley and New York State and a new transit capable bridge as proposed in the FEIS is the only option.
I agree, but I do have recommendations to the Thruway Authority of ways to do even better in certain areas.
First, selection of the bridge design is obviously critical and involves multifaceted criteria of arguably unique proportion. It is a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project in an environmentally sensitive area in one of the world’s most beautiful regions. There are many factors to consider including cost, engineering and transportation – but also the landscape, design, the fit with the natural beauty of the Hudson River, and the interests of the citizens in the surrounding communities. Therefore, I recommend a different kind of selection panel that goes beyond the usual technical and structural experts. The panel could include architects, historians of the river towns, international design experts, as well as local officials from Westchester and Rockland, regular citizens, and of course the appropriate technical experts that Thruway has identified. I look forward to your recommendations.
Second, for many Westchester and Rockland residents, the bridge is the only practical crossing for commuting, shopping and visiting family. I believe the projected 2017 toll schedule based on the Federal Highway Administration’s estimate of up to $5.2 billion for the new bridge is too high. Over the next 5 years, we must find alternatives, revenue generators and cost reductions that reduce the potential toll increases.
I request that you work with my administration to convene a task force of Thruway, state, federal and local officials to explore ways to reduce these increases. We have done this successfully in similar situations where a bridge crossing is a necessity for local residents. For example, we recently developed a discount program for Staten Island residents that significantly reduces the toll burden of interstate bridges. The Task Force should include in its examination:
· Working with our congressional representatives to seek maximum federal support for this critical portion of the interstate highway system, including firm commitments for funding from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and other federal sources
· Expanding discount programs that benefit Westchester and Rockland residents
· Seeking financial mechanisms that lower the cost of credit and borrowing
· Ensuring that any increase in tolls on the bridge goes solely to the bridge and regional transportation
Replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge will be the largest project of its kind in New York in decades, and like any effort of this scale presents challenges. New York has a history of innovation, inclusion and of rising to the most difficult of tests. I am confident that the work done to date in the FEIS and the steps outlined here will continue the momentum for the Tappan Zee project and will move the state and the region forward.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo