Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gov. Cuomo Still Trying To Have It Both Ways On Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement

After justifying that the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement will hold off on bus rapid transit or commuter rail so as to hold costs to roughly $5 billion, it was announced that tolls would nearly triple to $14 from a current $5 toll so as to cover the new bridge. The tolls are imposed by the New York State Thruway Authority, which is the lead agency and is the operator of the existing bridge.

Now, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is saying that he's looking for ways to reduce the tolling, but his solutions do not include the state kicking in funds to reduce the need for the Thruway Authority to borrow the money. Instead, he's proposing panels to consider how to make the tolls lower.
He has proposals for two new panels: One, a blue ribbon committee to choose the design and bidder for the bridge project. “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.”

The other a panel would federal agency representatives to examine financing options and ways to make the project cheaper.

“I want to reduce the toll predictions,” he said. “We have four or five years while the bridge is built” to figure out how to drive down the amount needed to pay for the bridge.

His letter to Thruway Chairman Howard Milstein and Director Thomas Madison says: “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.
What Cuomo is suggesting is additional bureaucracy to select the winning bridge design, rather than allow the Thruway Authority to make the choice. We are talking about a critical portion of the Interstate Highway System through the Lower Hudson River Valley and federal funding should be considered as a critical component of the overall plan. After all, the Thruway Authority is already working with federal, state, and local officials to get the bridge done.

Maximizing the value for the project needs to be considered and bus rapid transit maximizes the amount of people that can cross the bridge from the outset, and Cuomo's inflated the costs by tacking on costs that are outside the immediate construction of the bridge with bus rapid transit lanes. It isn't necessary to build an entire bus rapid transit corridor through the entirety of Rockland and Westchester County to get bus rapid transit on the bridge. Rather, it's necessary only to build between Tarrytown and Nyack at the outset. Once the bridge is built, and additional funds are made available, the corridor could be built out.

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