Despite Cuomo Admin Claims, Westchester Is Interested in On-Street BRT

The state's proposed path, circa 2011, for an on-street bus rapid transit system on the Westchester side of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The transit corridor would primarily run along Route 119 between the new bridge and White Plains. Click for a larger version. Image: ##http://www.thenewtzb.ny.gov/originaltzb/brt/tao/taor.pdf##Transit Alignment Options Report##

The Cuomo administration keeps finding obstacles to Tappan Zee Bridge transit that don’t exist. Chief among them is a phony $5 billion price tag, but there are others as well.

One example is the purported local opposition to running transit on existing streets, rather than in highway medians or on expensive new viaducts. The governor’s office has said that “community opposition” to on-street bus rapid transit precludes the construction of more affordable BRT options. But Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino explicitly endorsed on-street BRT on the Brian Lehrer Show yesterday. A spokesperson even offered a favored route. “Community opposition,” it seems, is just one more excuse not to pursue Tappan Zee transit.

Though the Cuomo administration has repeatedly invoked a $5 billion price tag for building a 30-mile BRT corridor, much cheaper options are available. The governor’s figure includes billions of dollars in highway improvements, many of which are unrelated to transit, and studies only an infrastructure-intensive plan to run BRT on a brand-new elevated busway.

Last month, Streetsblog asked the governor’s office why the state wasn’t looking at more cost-effective alternatives, including running buses on existing roads on the Westchester side of the bridge. The cheapest option, said Cuomo spokesperson Matt Wing, “proposed having the bus travel through regular streets in Westchester, taking away lanes from cars, with some extra space added in certain areas where the streets weren’t wide enough. Westchester county and the local communities strongly opposed this option.” Wing later added that many locals had feared that putting transit on existing surface streets would cause too much congestion.

But on yesterday’s radio interview, Astorino contradicted the Cuomo administration’s assumptions. “What we’re asking for is the basics,” the county executive said. “Using sensors, using traffic lights the right way, using dedicated lanes in and out of existing roadways.”

Streetsblog confirmed with Astorino spokesperson Phil Oliva that the county was open to using its existing roadways, particularly Route 119, for a new BRT system.

When the state was pursuing Tappan Zee transit, it identified Route 119 as the best on-street route from Tarrytown to White Plains and had begun to generate a detailed, block-by-block alignment. That option, which still included road widenings and even new viaducts in a few locations, would have cost about $1 billion if it extended all the way to Port Chester. Built out to only White Plains, as Astorino proposed, and without the most expensive infrastructure, it could cost significantly less.

No one ever said building a new rapid transit system for the Hudson Valley would be easy. But the Cuomo administration apparently wants it to be much harder than it really is.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I agree with the Governor on the insane, gold plated initial transit proposals for the Tappan Zee, and the need to get thing think guilt.  But rejecting accomodating a dedicated busway across the bridge and BRT on Route 119 in Westchester and Route 59 in Rockland, I don’t see where he is coming from.

    Perhaps he made promises to anti-transit types in exchange for other things.  Perhaps he was told that unless people were forced to drive there would not be enough toll revenue to pay for the bridge.Perhaps he feels that it’s fine to keep inner NYC safe for bikes, pedestrians and transit riders but the suburbs must be a sancturary for cars and drivers. 

    But they’ll end up being Naturally Occuring Retirement Communities (NORCs) for those in Cuomo’s generation and older, followed by decline.  And when they became home to the less well off, they’d need mass transit anyway.

  • Guest

    As much as I believe we absolutely need to include BRT on the Tappan Zee, and as much as I believe Westchester needs a comprehensive county-wide BRT network…  I can’t help but notice that the Bee-Line has made absolutely no progress whatsoever in implementing its years-old BRT study for Central Ave, which is gathering dust on the shelf.

  • IanM

    Lots of interesting stuff in here: http://www.thenewtzb.ny.gov/originaltzb/brt/tao/taor.pdf

    Honestly, just the idea of having a bus line, period, even if they just run it on 119 to White Plains and down 287 to Portchester from there with the other cars, is starting to seem like a big improvement over no transit at all. Why did the state bother with these pie-in-the-sky proposals that were never going to happen? It just allows Cuomo to point to them now (misleadingly) as evidence ANY sort of transit would cost billions.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I can’t help but notice that the Bee-Line has made absolutely no progress whatsoever in implementing its years-old BRT study for Central Ave, which is gathering dust on the shelf.”
    Westchester is rich.  But broke.  The way around this is what I said.  Turn buses and the MTA payroll tax revenues over to NYC and the counties, and turn state bus aid into capital aid for the MTA.

    This might turn out to be a net fiscal loss for NYC, particularly if it wants to keep the free bus to subway transfers.  But that could be offset by getting rid of some other fiscal ripoff of NYC by the rest of the state.  Cutting the city’s general municipal aid to zero while providing that aid to municipalities with far less poverty, for example, or proving a higher Medicaid match for services concentrated outside the city than for services concentrated inside the city for example.

    The anti-transit counties could get rid of the payroll tax.  Westchester and Rockland could create a joint BRT network.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Why did the state bother with these pie-in-the-sky proposals that were never going to happen?”

    You get “the community” together and the easiest way to be popular and avoid conflict is to say “we’ll given everyone everything and it will cost nothing,” that’s why.  The whole country has been run on a something for nothing basis for some time.  Just borrow money.

    It’s just like the Gowanus replacement study.  They just fixed up part of the existing highway, and decided not to fix up the rest of it until it falls down.

    And now we are broke.

    The people who are going to get everything they demanded and pay less have already done so.

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