Andrew Cuomo Is Building a Legacy Fit for 1950

This is Cuomo's infrastructure legacy. Rendering: New NY Bridge/YouTube
Behold: Andrew Cuomo’s infrastructure legacy. Rendering: New NY Bridge/YouTube

The Times noted last week that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s infrastructure legacy will be defined by two mega-projects: the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the rebuilding of LaGuardia Airport. Cuomo clearly relishes building big things, but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better when it comes to infrastructure. These projects will shape the region for decades. New Yorkers should be prepared for some devastating consequences.

First, there are the effects of the projects themselves. Instead of building a high-quality transit connection across the Hudson River, the governor halted the transit planning process and forged ahead with an extra-wide highway bridge. While the Cuomo administration eventually promised a Bus Rapid Transit network, so far that’s only resulted in a modest plan to expand existing express bus service.

Instead of transitways, the new bridge will have four car lanes in each direction, plus room for more. That’s a recipe for more driving and more sprawl, particularly in Rockland and Orange counties, where population is expected to soar 34 percent over the next 35 years, more than double the rate of the rest of the region [PDF].

While Cuomo’s Tappan Zee replacement is a sprawl machine for the suburbs, his LaGuardia Airport revamp is poised to generate more car traffic in an already-congested urban area.

Details of the LGA plan are scarce, but Cuomo is calling for the construction of additional car parking to handle the increased capacity of the airport. Those garages will be more of an enticement than the lackluster transit options the governor is proposing. The LaGuardia AirTrain will require most air travelers to go out of their way to Willets Point, the second-to-last stop on the 7 train, before getting on a connection to the airport. Not only would that push more riders onto the crowded subway line (the LIRR is another option but offers scant service to Willets Point), it would actually be slower than the buses that already serve LGA.

Then there’s the opportunity cost. While Cuomo secures funds for his favored projects — $4 billion (or is it $8 billion?) for LaGuardia, plus another $4 billion for the Tappan Zee — others are left waiting.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal, for instance, is bursting at the seams. Delays in the trans-Hudson rail tubes are only going to get worse. The Port Authority and Amtrak are sounding the alarm about the need to get started on these projects. So far, Cuomo has paid them lip service — but they’re not getting the attention and resources the governor has lavished on the Tappan Zee and LaGuardia.

The MTA capital program, meanwhile, is little more than a political hot potato to Cuomo. No infrastructure legacy may be more important than investing in the future of a system that millions of people rely on every day. But when the governor devotes any energy to MTA-related problems, he’s not trying to fix them, he’s trying to make people think they’re not his fault.

Unlike the governor’s favored projects, the ones he has neglected are first and foremost about improving transit. Building them will not only make life better for today’s commuters, but also make New York a healthier, more sustainable state in the long run. It’s exactly the kind of vision a progressive governor should be championing.

As Alex Pareene wrote recently at Gawker, Cuomo doesn’t think of infrastructure in terms of how it will shape the future:

Governor Cuomo’s aim generally seems to be to achieve political victories for the sake of achieving political victories…

Cuomo’s “style” means, to use one example, building a bridge simply for the sake of being able to say that he built a bridge, without bothering to determine what sort of bridge would be best, where and how it would make sense to build it, how it should be funded and maintained, and whether or not there might be other transit or transportation-related projects more worthy of so much economic and political capital. Nothing about the way the bridge is being built remotely resembles good government or best practices. But that doesn’t matter, because, hey, a bridge.

New York will end up with a shiny new suburban highway bridge and a shiny new airport terminal. Neither project will get the region any closer to achieving strategic goals like improving access to jobs or cutting congestion. In fact, they will just make traffic worse.

That’s the Cuomo infrastructure legacy.

  • rao

    The airport thing is really dumb and the proposed train to Citi Field and Related’s redevelopment smells fishy. This governor seems “done” to me — Hopefully he’ll be indicted soon.

    As for the bridge — transit across that bridge will also induce sprawl. The least worst possible outcome would be a massive toll that keeps people from using it.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    back of envelope Calculation Is cost of each trip Over new Tappen Zee will be $20 !

    win other words, Bridge toll would need to be $20 to cover costs of building new Bridge over 30 years.

  • Bobberooni

    New Bridge has a design lifetime of over 100 years, not 30. What’s your toll now? And in other news… what’s fare would MTA have to charge to second avenue riders to pay for the second avenue subway? The two projects have similar budgets and ridership estimates.

    Of course, none of this compares to the $4b WTC PATH station that serves only 44,000 riders/day — and doesn’t move them anywhere at all!

  • Bolwerk

    If I’m not mistaken, the bonds are paid off over 30 years.

    (The Tappan Zee expects to move 500,000 people a day?)

  • Bobberooni

    I agree that PABT and Hudson tunnels should be higher regional priorities than LGA. Problem is, those both involve Port Authority and New Jersey, neither of which has shown much interest in spending money wisely. Port Authority is finishing up the most expensive skyscraper in the city, plus a $4b train STATION (not transit line, just the station). And PA money that was GOING to pay for a trans-Hudson tunnel is instead being spent repairing the main connection between Jersey City and… Newark. PA is broke after hiking GWB tolls multiple times, they don’t have enough cash for anything IMPORTANT, like ensuring that people can cross the Hudson River easily.

    Sure, New York will suffer if the Hudson tubes go down and PABT sinks under the weight of delayed passengers. But most of the pain will go to NJ, whose “leaders” haven’t shown much concern about these problems.

    That said, the LGA money would probably be better spent on some other NY-side transit — 2nd Ave Subway or BRT in Rockland/Westchester counties. The Willets Point Air Train especially seems like a waste of money (although it’s money that’s earmarked for air travel stuff only).

  • Komanoff

    Fun fact: In just five weekdays, the NYC subway system carries as many passengers as LaGuardia Airport handles in a year. (You can get “enplanement” data at http://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/. I doubled the LGA figure to reflect arrivals along with departures.

    Re TZB: For my toll calculations a few years back, see http://bit.ly/y5uB8j. Note, though, that the governor’s allocation of bank-settlement $$ to the Thruway Authority will reduce the future tolls I was projecting.

  • It should be pretty clear the problem with Cuomo is not inaptitude but corruption and greed. If only there was an independent investigator who could investigate the state for corruption — you know, something like the office Cuomo shut down after it began investigating him.

  • I don’t think New York will be impacted quite as much as you think. Suburbanites who want access to high paying jobs in New York will continue to suffer terrible commutes or they will move to areas serviced by Metro North and LIRR.

  • ohnonononono

    LGA is operated by the Port Authority too. If Cuomo wanted to do something with the PABT and Hudson tubes I don’t see why it’d be that much more difficult for him to take control of projects there the way he has at LGA. The PA was originally supposed to oversee the LGA reconstruction until he decided NYS would take over.

  • cjstephens

    Once again I am glad I didn’t vote for Cuomo. How many Streetsblog readers can say the same?

  • Bobberooni

    The problem is, you can’t just move hundreds of thousands of people from NJ overnight. More likely will be even worse commutes and lowered property values in NJ for a couple of decades.

    I agree, it won’t make such a huge difference to NY. This is mostly NJ’s problem. Which is funny, when you consider how Christie keeps saying “I’m willing to pay for a tunnel, but everyone else has to help me out on equal footing.”

  • Bobberooni

    I suppose you have a point.

    TZB does 138,000/day. Second Ave Subway Phase 1, 200K/day. When 2nd Ave is complete, then they project 560K/day ridership. But that’s a $17b project, as compared to the $4.45b for 2nd Ave Phase I, or about $4b for the TZB.

  • Bobberooni

    Good point. I conclude that Cuomo is taking the attitude of “if Christie doesn’t care about Hudson River Crossings for NJ commuters, why should I?”

  • JK

    Speaking of fun facts, don’t forget, it’s the new Tappan Zee BridgeS — two bridges for the low, low price of, um, two bridges. Each of the new bridges is almost as big as the current bridge and will have 6 lanes (4 traffic and two “breakdown.’) versus 7 for the current TZ. (Which has no breakdown lanes)

  • Bobberooni

    These are two very different projects, that I feel differently about.

    Yes, people are mad that transit got dropped from the TZB. But that also kept the price manageable — $4b vs. $10b and up. The old TZB is deteriorating quickly, and something HAD to be done. Cuomo got the job done after a decade of talk and inaction and “where’s the money?” But even at the lower price of the smaller project, people aren’t sure where the money is supposed to come form. That makes me think that if we’d held out for the “perfect” TZB with commuter trains running across it, we’d have no bridge at all pretty soon (like NJ is going to have no tunnels pretty soon).

    Meanwhile, the new TZB has bus lanes that can support upgraded bus service immediately. The I-287 corridor ALREADY supports transit east of the river. Rockland County residents can ALREADY take mass transit to Manhattan through NJ. How can you justify building this rail line for a county with only 300,000 residents?

    But a new LGA… that’s just a waste of money better spent elsewhere.

  • This process is not a rapid one. As time goes on and the delays continue, the people who plan on leaving the city will simply be less likely to consider New Jersey. The NYTimes trend pieces about Montclair or Maplewood being the next Brooklyn can be re-written about towns on a MetroNorth or LIRR line instead. Without younger people moving to suburban New Jersey, those places will grow older, and become even less attractive places to live.

    As for the people already living in New Jersey, the current trends will simply be exacerbated. Gentrification along the PATH will intensify as people will be less likely to move away from a functional transit system for dysfunctional NJTransit. People already living along the trains expecting that to be their life line to their jobs will simply have longer commutes. Newark will likely see big growth since it is PATH accessible and also the center of a lot of transit lines. It would also probably be a great time for the Hoboken rail yard redevelopment to kick into high gear with high rise office towers, since the Bergen Main Lines could bring officer workers there without using the tunnels.

  • Jesse

    Why buy one when you can get two for only twice the price!

  • Kevin Love

    But it could be a rapid one. There are plenty of engineering professionals talking about the potential for sudden and catastrophic failure.

    Which is what actually happened with Sandy. Except next time it may not be so quickly repairable.

  • Reader

    If you’re a governor who likes cutting ribbons, you can do it when your shiny new bridge opens. It won’t matter if there won’t be a way to pay for the bridge a few years later. If you want a photo op, you can ride a ferry to a new airport with a gaggle of reporters. Maybe they’ll put your name on it if you’re no longer in office, but either way, no one will connect your decision making to the fact that the traffic to and from the airport is horrendous. But if you want a lot of attention, gradually improved subway service or a congestion pricing plan leaves you with no where to stand. Even if it did, you’d only risk ticking off angry motorists in the short term. Only when politicians become more concerned with the future than their own ego will things change. So good luck, future generations!

  • If I owned property in suburban New Jersey, would I be selling now before it’s too late? Sure. Will the tunnel cause a problem for most New Yorkers? Not really

  • Mark Walker

    (Raises hand.) I voted for the Green party candidates. And I virtually never vote for third-party candidates in other elections.

  • Joe R.

    Robert Moses would be proud!

  • Mark Walker

    Just as future generations of NJ residents will pay for Christie’s folly, future generations of NY residents will pay for Cuomo’s. Christie is now paying the political price. I pray Cuomo does too.

  • Joe R.

    Part of the rationale for building rail is that it would eventually enable the population to grow. Yes, it might only sever 300,000 residents after being built. A few decades later the number could be several times that.

    Yeah, doing anything to LGA but letting it rot and fall into the ocean is money better spent elsewhere. Pilots say landing at LGA is like landing on an aircraft carrier. It’s just an awful location for an airport given the millions who have to endure noisy planes for 18 hours a day. I heard they would eventually be using newer, quieter planes. This was two decades ago. The planes are still the same noisy ones as back then. I think they’re still flying 1960s era jets of out LGA judging by the noise levels.

  • Andrew

    I frankly forget who I voted for. All I recall is that the name on the ballot was something other than Andrew Cuomo. Both times, plus primaries.

  • Joe R.

    Realistically, outside of a third term for governor what else would he run for? He’s a long shot for President. So was Christie even before the sh*t hit the fan. At least Christie could have used a catchy tag line like “too big to fail” if he was running. What would be Cuomo’s tag line other than “Selling out New York’s future, one megaproject at a time”?

  • Daniel

    I just hope the feds get this indictment filed ASAP. Coumo seems hell bent on borrowing and spending on as many white elephant projects as possible before he goes to Otisville.

  • Bolwerk

    Just curious, what was your reason for not voting for him the first time? He wasn’t overtly a lizard until after he was in office. At least not unusally lizard-y.

  • Andrew

    He seemed slimy to me even before he was in office. Just an intuition on my part, and one that seems to have been proven correct.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, I agree. Getting to work is traditionally the employees responsibility. Not too many people work in New Jersey and live in New York.

  • Mark Walker

    I think he fancies himself as presidential or vice presidential material and has been positioning himself to be palatable to business interests and mega donors for somectime. There is no other explanation for so many things. For instance, getting his envrionmental bureaucrats to connive with a mining company turn a protected Adirondack forest mountain into an open pit mine.

  • EB

    Here’s a slogan both Cuomo and Christie (and, come to think of it, DeBlasio as well), can use – “The future – it’s overrated!”

  • Alexander Vucelic

    subsidy for drivers is approx. 40 cents a mile.

    The design life is 100 years – BWAAHH.

    Drivers have been leeching off rail users for decades.

  • Maggie

    Yeah, that is really disgraceful.

    I get the feeling he is thinking of a post in a Hillary Clinton administration.

    For myself, I’ve voted blue in every single race until Cuomo in 2013. I can’t stand the guy. He reminds me of George W Bush in his propensity to pick fights, his lack of focus, empty slogans, kicking the can down the road on critical issues, and the ostrichlike inability to think beyond his privileged cohort. (I’m really not a fan).

  • JoshNY

    “It’s exactly the kind of vision a progressive governor should be championing.”

    I thought we were talking about Cuomo.

  • Bolwerk

    What got me was he refused to take a stand on anything. Couldn’t see what he was for, couldn’t see what he was against.

  • HamTech87

    I’m still not convinced about the old TZ Bridge. If it is that bad, why aren’t they imposing emergency restrictions on use right now? There are plenty of bridges in the state in worse shape, and they’re still not getting fixed.

    $4B is the price? It was $6B until the feds said that number was too high for a TIFIA loan, and then voila, lower price. As covered here, even Cuomo says he doesn’t know the final price. And the money is coming from the bank settlements, because people who got screwed by the banks will be made whole by being able to drive over a bridge.

    And the TZ bridge doesn’t just promote sprawl in Rockland, but also in the other counties north and west of the bridge. Some future governor is going to have to re-look at Cuomo’s fracking veto, just to heat all those new single-family, car-dependent homes.

  • Bobberooni

    “I’m still not convinced about the old TZ Bridge. If it is that bad, why aren’t they imposing emergency restrictions on use right now?”

    Because unlike the neighbors across the river, they’re doing something pro-active before the whole thing falls down (or more likely, before half it it has to be shut down for emergency repairs that cost a lot but barely deliver; cue Pulaski Skyway).

    Sprawl north and west of Rockland? Let’s get real here. Rockland County is hemmed in by MOUNTAINS and a LARGE STATE PARK. There are few if any roads going OVER The mountains, and the roads that exist are a HARROWING drive. Meanwhile… Rockland County itself is barely commutable to NYC. Yes, a few people live out in Monroe and Kiryas Joel and Newburgh and stuff. But don’t expect it to become a major NY bedroom community, with or without a new TZB.

    Meanwhile, magical one-seat commuter rail from Rockland could actually intensify development in that county, drawing people away from closer-in areas such as Westchester. It doesn’t matter how many lanes you build on the TZB, that won’t help Rockland residents get to jobs in Manhattan.

  • MatthewEH

    Monroe, Kiryas Joel, and Newburgh are all Orange County anyhow. 😉

  • douglasawillinger

    The outward canted chopstick towers appear to impinge upon the vertical clearances along each side of the media space between the spans thus precluding double stacked rail cars.

    Why were outward canted towers chosen?

    And what was the story behind the early 2012 decision to reboot the design process to exclude those with the lower deck? I was told that only saved about $200 million.

  • tgmur10

    I can 🙂 Proudly may I add…..

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