Even a Paltry $150M For Tappan Zee Transit Is Too Much For Andrew Cuomo

Earlier this week, Streetsblog reported that Governor Andrew Cuomo is dishonestly overstating the cost of building Tappan Zee Bridge transit. Cuomo has repeatedly said that building a 30-mile bus rapid transit system would cost $5 billion, and that the state can’t afford to spend that much. But that number is inflated by the inclusion of billions of dollars in highway improvements, like new climbing lanes for trucks, many of which are entirely unrelated to providing transit.

By repeating the false $5 billion number, the governor is not only overstating the cost of a built-out, full-featured bus rapid transit corridor, he’s also glossing over low-cost, incremental steps toward better bus service, steps which his administration has refused to take. One of the small, high-impact steps that transit advocates have called for involves building less than a mile of infrastructure to better connect bus riders to Metro-North. Those calls have gone unheeded by the governor so far.

“In theory is a mass transit system across the state a great idea? Of course, of course,” said Cuomo in a press conference held Tuesday. “The question then becomes the reality of the situation, and the cost of the situation. And to put in a bus system now, for Rockland County and Westchester would roughly double the cost, from five billion to ten billion.”

A ramp off the new Tappan Zee Bridge would help get bus riders to the Tarrytown Metro-North station at a fraction of the cost of a full BRT system (also shown in this diagram), but the Cuomo administration isn't pursuing that option either. Image: ##http://www.thenewtzb.ny.gov/originaltzb/brt/tao/taor.pdf##Transit Alignment Options Report##

But “five billion” is not the deal breaker. It appears that there is almost no cost that Cuomo is willing to pay for mass transit.

“This is a red herring that it’s going to cost $5 billion to do BRT and therefore we’re not going to do anything,” said Jeff Zupan, a senior fellow with the Regional Plan Association.

In February, Zupan testified before state officials as part of the official public comment period for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. He argued that given the lack of funding, it wasn’t necessary to build the full bus rapid transit system simultaneously with the new bridge, but that the state should take additional steps to improve transit in the short term [PDF].

“The new bridge should include a three-quarter mile bus-only ramp at the Westchester County side at the time the new bridge is built for buses to directly reach the Tarrytown train station, providing a congestion-free link between bus and rail,” Zupan said in February. “This ramp needs to be integrated into the initial construction of the bridge.”

In a newly released document from last year, the state estimated that a Tarrytown connector and new Tarrytown BRT station would cost just $151 million, including all soft costs [PDF]. Yet despite the low pricetag, Zupan said, the state has not taken any of the necessary steps to build this small but important addition to the bridge. “To date, they haven’t responded,” he said, “and from what I understand, they haven’t asked the bidders to provide a separate cost estimate for the option of building a bus ramp to the Tarrytown station.”

The governor’s office has not responded to Streetsblog inquiries about the Tarrytown connector.

Where I-287 has four lanes in each direction west of the Tappan Zee Bridge, one could be easily converted into a bus/carpool lane, suggested RPA's Jeff Zupan. Image: ##https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Interstate+287,+NY&hl=en&ll=41.088171,-73.927147&spn=0.017434,0.037594&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=37.188995,76.992187&oq=i-287&hnear=Interstate+287,+New+York&t=m&z=15&layer=c&cbll=41.088171,-73.927147&panoid=adNJYetFk6NvyV9em2F71w&cbp=13,167.76,,0,4.21##Google Street View##

With the Cuomo administration having agreed to open the bridge’s extra “emergency vehicle lanes” to buses during rush hour, Zupan argued, the Tarrytown connector could be the second step in a gradual rollout of better bus service across the Tappan Zee Bridge, with more to follow. “Between now and the time the bridge opens, they should look at whether the fourth lane that exists from the top of the Palisades down to the river would work as a bus and carpool lane,” he suggested. “If that works, then you can start getting into the big bucks.”

Finally, Zupan urged that the state restart its transit planning for the corridor, which it cancelled entirely last October. He suggested it could be worthwhile to pursue a scaled-back bus rapid transit system, limited to the most congested part of the I-287 corridor between the Palisades Parkway and White Plains, though questions still remain about demand for both car lanes and bus service (traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge has declined since 2005, and the creation of a new bridge with higher tolls will likely change regional travel patterns further).

If Andrew Cuomo were pursuing the lowest-cost bus improvements available for the Tappan Zee Bridge while doing the planning and engineering to ensure that bigger transit projects were shovel-ready for a later date when funding became available, it would be much easier to take seriously his claims that he’d build transit if the state could afford it.

“It can be done incrementally,” said Zupan. “That’s really the conflict with the way the governor is spinning it.”

  • Mark Walker

    How the Cuomo legacy will be perceived 10 years from now is increasingly clear: Fracking chemicals in the drinking water, a bankrupt transit system that consumes most of its revenues to service debt, and a landscape that makes no sense without cars — which will be obsolete by then, a luxury for the privileged at best, given the realities of peak oil.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t understand why the Governor doesn’t just tie the center lanes in to Rt 119, with a link to the station as Zupan recommends, and to Route 59 in Rockland, and say he’s done what the state can do.  The counties can put in BRT lanes and provide service as they choose.

    The only thing I can imagine is that he’s been told he won’t be able to bond the bridge unless mass transit is equally backed up with private cars, so people will be forced to drive and pay back the tolls that fund the bridge.

    One sore subject aspect. I think Andrew’s father was a pretty good Governor for much of his term, but in response to the recession he loaded a load of debt on the Thruway Authority to pay for other things.  Probably the worst thing he did from the point of view of people today.  Otherwise, all those past tolls could have paid for the new bridge.

  • Ben Kintisch

    This BRT light idea for only $150 million sounds like a great start and should definitely be included now with the bridge build
    .

  • Steely Yaro Vanterpool

    You see that Charlottesville Route 29 video in the blog post above? Transit advocates need to get off their duffs and explain the TZB BRT idea to the public in similar fashion.

    The public doesn’t have a clue what “BRT” is and they are not engaged in this debate at all.

    We need to show in a simple, clean, clear animation what the new bridge and traffic flow and commutes look like with transit and without. Otherwise, Cuomo is going to continue to win this debate with his dishonest but simple messages (too expensive, transit advocates standing in the way of progress, etc), his high approval ratings and his general political mastery and skillful thuggishness. 

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