Who Killed Transit on the New Tappan Zee? Feds and State DOT Won’t Say.

Two weeks ago, every option for reconstructing the Tappan Zee Bridge posted on the state's project website showed both a bus line and a rail line. Now, all the documents showing transit across the bridge have disappeared. Image: Tappan Zee Bridge website, ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/10/11/will-cuomo-scrap-transit-on-the-tappan-zee-and-just-widen-the-highway/##captured by Streetsblog##

Call it the mystery of the missing transit. One of the state’s biggest transit projects, in the works for nearly a decade, was canceled overnight and no one will explain why, or even claim responsibility for the decision.

Two weeks ago, each of the four alternatives for replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge included a new Metro-North commuter rail line and some form of bus rapid transit. The design, which widened the highway but also included a major expansion of transit in Rockland and Westchester counties, was the product of nine years of study and a whopping 280 public meetings. The whole process was thoroughly documented, with information about each alternative — along with hundreds of pages generated by the environmental review process and public commentary — easily found on the state’s Tappan Zee Bridge website.

On October 11, the Federal Highway Administration and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced that the bridge project had been selected for expedited federal review. The project they promised to speed up, however, was vastly different from the one vetted over the course of nearly a decade. The new plan for the bridge promised to add space for car traffic but left the transit component to be completed at an unspecified future date. Transit advocates are skeptical that the commuter rail and BRT lines will ever see the light of day.

At the same time that transit was removed from the plan, the state expunged from the public record all information about the nine-year public process and the four design alternatives that included rail and bus lines. The Tappan Zee website no longer displays the documents it did two weeks ago, as blogger Cap’n Transit first noted. The endorsement of transit, the extensive environmental analysis, the history of public input — all of it gone, replaced by three short documents chronicling the brief history of the transit-free project.

So much for transparency. Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said she couldn’t recall a single example of this kind of wholesale document scrubbing.

In addition to hiding the history of the Tappan Zee project, the state and federal agencies in charge won’t disclose how they reached the decision to build the bridge without transit.

When the Cuomo administration touted the selection of the Tappan Zee for expedited federal review, the announcement failed to mention that the project being expedited had also been utterly transformed. And it remains unclear who ultimately decided to abandon the transit component. Some media outlets reported that the federal government made the call; others implied it was the state. The New York Times reported that federal officials pushed for the transit elements to be postponed, while Transportation Nation noted that Cuomo hadn’t invited the MTA to his meetings on the Tappan Zee Bridge for months.

When Streetsblog asked the U.S. Department of Transportation which agency decided to remove transit from the bridge’s design and why, they directed us to the New York State DOT, which the feds said had “rescoped the project.” NYS DOT told us that the matter was being handled by the governor’s press office. Inquiries to Cuomo’s office were not answered.

A document jointly produced by the Federal Highway Administration, the New York State Department of Transportation and the New York State Thruway Authority provides the only public explanation for removing transit from the bridge design [PDF]. The joint explanation reads, in full:

In 2011, while advancing financial analysis, it was determined that funding for the corridor project (bridge replacement, highway improvements, and new transit service) was not possible at this time. The financing of the crossing alone, however, was considered affordable. Therefore, it was determined that the scope of the project should be limited, and efforts to replace the Hudson River crossing independent of the transit and highway elements should be advanced.

The aforementioned financial analysis, however, is not available on the Tappan Zee website. Why did the agencies consider it affordable and cost-effective to build a highway-only bridge — projected to cost $5.2 billion — while an estimated $1 billion more for bus rapid transit lines was too much? It’s impossible to tell.

Slevin called the statement “ten years of study and consensus erased by three sentences.”

One of the region’s most important transit projects was effectively canceled overnight, upending years of preparation for a high-quality transit option between Rockland and Westchester counties that could shape development, improve commutes, and decrease traffic congestion. New York residents deserve to know why the plans changed and who’s responsible, but so far the Cuomo and Obama administrations have denied them an explanation.

  • J

    All sources point to Cuomo for killing transit. He wants a new bridge fast, and transit is expensive. Since he has expressed little interest in improving transit, it’s easy to see him kill it. With all the backlash, now he simply doesn’t have the guts to take responsibility for this terrible decision. With this project and the outer-borough taxi plan, Cuomo has been completely opaque, embracing crony politics and back-room dealing. This supposed reformer is anything but. The result is bad for the future of New York State.

  • J

    Also, where is Sheldon Silver on this? Don’t we have any politician who will actually stick their neck out for transit? Is the mayor of Nyack the best New York State can do for progressive transportation from politicians?

  • da

    Maybe somebody really powerful owns a weekend house on that connector between the bridge and the Hudson River line?

  • Anonymous

    Having gone to a bunch of those meetings, I’m annoyed that my time was wasted.

  • this is atrocious. i blame Cuomo most of all, but am deeply saddened by Ray LaHood’s lack of leadership here. At least with Gov. Christie killing the ARC he was blindsided but this a clear slap int he face of transit.

  • IsaacB

    Transit advocates should have been suspicious from the start of the transit component’s being anything but “bait” to neutralize opposition to building a brand new bridge. The transit option would be withdrawn – like Lucy’s football – at just the right moment, as it did. The TZ currently serves the NY State Thruway Authority exclusively. Why would they willingly complicate their mission sharing “their” road with other constituencies? Rockland County is not known to be widely supportive of robust public transportation and has not demontrated any examples to the contrary. Westchester has little to gain from a connection to Rockland. Why did the rail/transit advocacy community ever buy into this?

  • So Sad

    Next up:  the new bridge will not be called the Tappan Zee (which by the way is one of the greatest names in the history of our planet) but will be called Cuomo’s Car Congested Maro.

    Hey it needs to be a little fancy…. Zee is Dutch for sea:  Maro is Esperanto for sea.

  • Shemp

    Let’s start seeing Cuomo’s headshot on these articles.  If you want to chain this to a pol who would rather be off-radar, stick their picture on it.   

  • After Gov Chrystie killed ARC, maybe Gov Cuomo is hoping to prove he’s the strongest transit killer of the Tri-State Area? Connecticut Gov Malloy… now it’s your turn to undo the great strides you’ve made for the Hartford BRT and commuter rail lines.

  • Danny G

    How about just building the whole thing half at a time? You can have 4 lanes for cars, 1 lane for buses, and 1 track for trains. You can build the second half later.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Perhaps the realization is that if transit would really cost as much as they say, it cannot be afforded, and the bridge has to be replaced before it falls down.

    Right now the bridge is 4 lanes in the peak direction and 3 lanes in the non-peak direction.  They want four lanes in each direction.  Would it really cost $billions more to add a reversible bus lane in the peak direction, for a total of nine lanes?  Or just dedicate two lanes to buses?

  • Anonymous

    While Gov. Christie does by shouting, Cuomo does in silence. 

  • Alice Wonders

    How does this comply with NEPA?

  • VW

    The article is incorrect. Paragraph three should begin, “On October 11, the Federal Highway Administration………”

  • Eric Blair

    Next time Cuomo says a word about open government, ask him why anyone should believe a guy who flushed the records from 280 public meetings and millions of consultant study dollars down the memory hole.

  • I’m just hoping that the project drags until 2016 and that the new governor will cancel it the way Christie canceled ARC. The difference: Rockland County doesn’t need the extra capacity into Westchester – take two lanes on the bridge and dedicate them to buses and tell people in Rockland to take the bus rather than force the rest of society to pay $8 billion for a bridge.

  • Eric McClure

    Status Cuomo is a complete fraud.  At least crazy Carl Paladino was up front about his retrograde conservatism.

  • Dyale500

    I’m willing to be that King Mario was bought off by the oil lobby. This is just another reason why we need to step up Occupy Wall Street activity. There is no democracy anymore, and won’t be until the 99% take it back from the dictators.

  • Dyale500

    I’m willing to be that King Mario was bought off by the oil lobby. This is just another reason why we need to step up Occupy Wall Street activity. There is no democracy anymore, and won’t be until the 99% take it back from the dictators.

  • Jwirtz79

    Isn’t this the kind of 1960’s era public input-free freeway corruption that the NEPA was designed to fix?

  • Andrew

    @EricMcClure:disqus Status Cuomo.  I love it, or at least I would if he weren’t my governor.

  • >  At least crazy Carl Paladino was up front about his retrograde conservatism.

    I don’t think “retrograde conservatism” describes Cuomo’s politics. He accelerated the passage of marriage equality in New York by years, with the same backroom wheeling and dealing that is now giving us fits. Even as I celebrated that victory I was fearful of what he would do with the political capital. That currency only seems to be good for doing evil.

    What we are seeing with Cuomo’s Tappan Zee swindle and his opposition to raising top mariginal income tax rates, and will soon see with his approval of hydrofracking, is nothing so noble as retrograde conservatism. It is corruption.

    And we earned it. The Democratic party put someone into its highest office who says he has a principled opposition to progressive income taxes, who doesn’t give a shit about transit, and who will quite possibly own the state’s greatest (and terminal?) environmental disaster. He’s a menace, and Democrats of New York have no one to blame but our own lazy, dynastic-swooning selves. If I recall correctly, there were no other names on the ballot when I went to vote in the primary. How’s that for Democracy?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Again, you folks are blaming the guy who just got there.  Would you advocate just shutting the bridge?  Because all those tolls paid in the past have been spent, and all the tolls in the future have been borrowed against, and it is deteriorating.  Now what?

    The public input process included no financial constraint.  $4 billion, $16 billion, $32 billion, what’s the difference?   I’m sure the construction industry and the consulting industry were big participants.

    This is an example of what we can’t have because of the generations that have been in charge for the past 20-30 years.  Actually it isn’t.  Because what is proposed is that we get no better than we had.  They can always shift lanes to bus-only.  A better example is ending up with less.

    We’ll be lucky if we can run trains through existing NYCT tunnels 25 years from now.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I think the folks making these comments have been had.

    Pols like Bush, Pataki, Giuliani, Bruno and Silver took all the money for their generation and their supporters, and left behind debts and promises.  Now politicians like Obama, Cuomo and Christie are taking back the promises.  What did you expect?  You are acting as if meaningful decisions are being made now, as opposed to over and over again over the years.

    Thanks to what has been done in the past, the issue isn’t who should get what extra.  It’s about who should lose what.  And if the rich of the financial sector lose, and there is an excellent argument that they should be first in line, and the public employee unions with their retroactively enriched pensions get to keep them, you’d better be prepared to travel by bike and provide your children with home schooling.

    From Crain’s:  “Here in New York, the top 1% accounted for 44% of the income in the city in 2007, up from 17% in 1987. The bottom 90% of New York households accounted for 34% of income in 2007, compared with 59% in 1987.”

    Good comparison:  1987 and 2007 were both peak stock market years, and you often don’t see such cyclically neutral comparisons.  What if a large share of the extra income grabbed by the top 1.0% here was not earned?  What happens to the city and state tax base if in the future they no longer get it?  Hint — what goes down will NOT be debts and pensions.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I think the folks making these comments have been had.

    Pols like Bush, Pataki, Giuliani, Bruno and Silver took all the money for their generation and their supporters, and left behind debts and promises.  Now politicians like Obama, Cuomo and Christie are taking back the promises.  What did you expect?  You are acting as if meaningful decisions are being made now, as opposed to over and over again over the years.

    Thanks to what has been done in the past, the issue isn’t who should get what extra.  It’s about who should lose what.  And if the rich of the financial sector lose, and there is an excellent argument that they should be first in line, and the public employee unions with their retroactively enriched pensions get to keep them, you’d better be prepared to travel by bike and provide your children with home schooling.

    From Crain’s:  “Here in New York, the top 1% accounted for 44% of the income in the city in 2007, up from 17% in 1987. The bottom 90% of New York households accounted for 34% of income in 2007, compared with 59% in 1987.”

    Good comparison:  1987 and 2007 were both peak stock market years, and you often don’t see such cyclically neutral comparisons.  What if a large share of the extra income grabbed by the top 1.0% here was not earned?  What happens to the city and state tax base if in the future they no longer get it?  Hint — what goes down will NOT be debts and pensions.

  • dan

    Seems fairly obvious.  The reason it was “fast-tracked” was because State DOT agreed to take out the transit aspect.  It was more complicated, time-consuming and expensive to include the extra facilities.  It was both easier and (from a conservatively-controlled Congress) politically expedient to ditch the bus and rail component.

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