New York Can’t Afford to Build a Tappan Zee Bridge With No Transit

Andrew Cuomo inspecting the Tappan Zee Bridge in 2010. Photo: ##http://www.newsday.com/opinion/keep-up-tappan-zee-pressure-1.3243937##Angel Franco/Newsday##

According to the State of New York, spending $5.2 billion on a new Tappan Zee Bridge is affordable, but spending another $1 billion for a 30-mile bus rapid transit corridor is a bridge too far.

Affordability, of course, is subjective. If the state were truly broke, Governor Andrew Cuomo might decide he had to close the Tappan Zee entirely, save $5 billion and let drivers head to the George Washington Bridge or Bear Mountain Bridge. That was never going to happen; the state found $5 billion for a new bridge because replacing the Tappan Zee is seen as necessary. “Affordable,” in this case, really just means “worth the cost.”

If Cuomo viewed building transit across the Tappan Zee as vital, transit might be “affordable” as well. So let’s take a look at what doesn’t qualify as a vital transportation project under Cuomo’s leadership.

According to the Tappan Zee transit mode selection report, put together by the State DOT, the Thruway Authority and Metro-North when David Paterson was governor, building just the BRT component of the transit would cost less than $1 billion. For that price, compared to a no-build scenario, New York would get the following benefits:

  • 54,000 additional commuters would ride transit per day.
  • During every morning rush, the transit line would save commuters 4,400 hours of travel time.
  • Every day, during just the four hours of the a.m. peak, BRT would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 59 tons and carbon monoxide emissions by 2.3 tons.
  • The BRT system would conserve 22,325 gallons of fuel each morning.

Those numbers, from 2009, probably understate the value of transit. The projections assumed the ARC tunnel would be finished, which would have significantly increased transit capacity in Rockland County. With Tappan Zee transit but no ARC, some would-be ARC riders might find themselves riding across the Tappan Zee instead.

The 2009 calculations also compare a bridge with highway and transit improvements to the current bridge, rather than to a bridge with just the highway improvements, as the Cuomo administration now plans to build. As a result, those figures likely underestimate the impact of the BRT system by a significant margin. Adding the more expensive Metro-North line would boost transit ridership even further.

The BRT-only option was estimated to attract 54,000 transit riders a day in a 2009 analysis. Adding in commuter rail would have boosted ridership further. Image: ##http://tzbsite.org/tzb-library/study-documents/level-3/L3-transit-mode-selection-report2009.html##Tappan Zee Transit Mode Selection Report##

Let’s put some dollar values on the benefits of the BRT-only option:

  • Assuming gas costs $4 a gallon and every morning rush hour driver returns in the evening, BRT alone would save New Yorkers around $200,000 in gas costs each and every weekday.
  • Transit would provide another $200,000 a day in value from time savings, using the The Partnership for New York City’s conservative estimate of $23 per vehicle hour as the value of lost time in a 2006 report.
  • Not even counting weekend travel, these savings add up to about $100 million over the course of a year.

Then consider the extra pollution, additional traffic crashes, and land eaten up by sprawl. By building the Tappan Zee without transit, the Cuomo administration is forcing New Yorkers to absorb those costs.

The state government says New York can’t afford to build transit. But perhaps the Cuomo administration should take a page from the decade of study that went into the Tappan Zee project, and ask whether we can afford not to.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They turned the bridge with transit into a massively expensive monster.  But all you have to do is add one more lane to the eight lanes planned, and make some modifications on either end (needed in any event because the location of the bridge would shift slightly), and you have what you have now plus a busway.  Take away the extra peak hour lane, and you have the busway at virtually no additional cost.

    The question is, would people use the buses on the busway?  Where would they go?  Some of the people I know who live in the West of Hudson area are Yonkers city school teachers.  The office parks in the I-287 corridor have buildings set back a 15 minute walk from the street.  Buses to Manhattan from Rockland and Orange are better off going through New Jersey, because there is no north-south highway in that borough that accepts buses, so you are pretty much talking about First and Second Avenue off the Major Deegan.

    There is a real downtown in White Plains.  But by and large, by installing BRT you are providing an opportunity to create a land use pattern that does not now exist.  That needs to be considered carefully.  Are the Hudson Valley officials now yelling for transit willing to upzone, for both residential and commercial, along the busway?  Are they willing to give up the peak hour capacity of one extra lane?

  • Anonymous

    Even just having BRT is too short sighted in my opinion. Better than nothing is still nothing. We need trains, lots and lots of trains.

  • Anonymous

    There has been plans to upzone Central Avenue along a BRT corridor.  Not sure where this has gone.  Also, I thought BRT would connect with one or more MetroNorth stations.  As it stands now, Rockland county people are taking the ferry to Ossining, right?  http://www.mta.info/mnr/html/raillink/ferry_service.htm

  • @HamTech87:disqus  The Haverstraw-Ossining Ferry really only serves North Rockland and lower Orange County commuters.

  • @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus  You have significant density in several locations along this route. In Tarrytown, Spring Valley, Nyack and Suffern. I believe Rockland officials would love to upzone the areas around the Palisades Mall. There is tremendous opportunity for development along this entire corridor. I’m surprised real estate developers aren’t screaming along with these politicians and residents.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “There is tremendous opportunity for development along this entire corridor. I’m surprised real estate developers aren’t screaming along with these politicians and residents.”

    That’s what it would take to make BRT live — transit villages for seniors, young people, those who just want that lifestyle, commercial.  That would really bring out the NIMBYs, but it might keep young people in the area. 

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