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Tappan Zee Draft EIS Underscores Cuomo Admin’s Disregard for Transit

The Cuomo administration's latest thinking on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, contained in the draft environmental impact statement it released yesterday, reinforces the state's commitment to building a sprawl-inducing, highway-only bridge. The document not only dismisses bus rapid transit, but also clears the way for an enormous expansion of automobile capacity and makes a mockery of New York's statewide smart growth law. We'll be breaking down the DEIS in a series of posts today.

The release of the DEIS presents three new obstacles for bus service across the Tappan Zee:

    • The Cuomo administration has stopped planning for bus service while it moves forward with a highway-only bridge.
    • The state has significantly inflated its cost estimates for BRT without a clear explanation.
    • Some elected officials who have supported transit now seem willing to go along with the Cuomo plan for the bridge.

While the Cuomo administration continues to tout the fact that its plans for the new Tappan Zee Bridge do not preclude the construction of transit at some later date, the DEIS makes clear that the date in question will be significantly later, if it ever comes to pass at all. "The previous corridor project has been rescinded and the State Sponsors do not intend on advancing it in the foreseeable future," the document states.

The state will not continue to study or plan transit improvements, the DEIS reveals. A Tappan Zee transit project won't continue along some parallel, slower track; under Cuomo, it isn't moving forward at all.

In justifying the elimination of transit, the DEIS presents new cost estimates for transit far out of line with previous calculations. In 2009, a state report [PDF] pegged the cost of building a full BRT corridor at $897 million, with the system running in HOT lanes in Rockland and on a mix of dedicated lanes and a separate busway in Westchester. The more expensive alternative, which entailed building separated busways through Westchester, was estimated to cost $2.5 billion.

Now, estimates in the DEIS say the first design will cost $4.6 billion and the second $5.3 billion. The document provides no explanation for the dramatic increase in projected costs, and the state has not responded to Streetsblog's inquiries regarding the matter. One possible explanation, though, is that the state is calculating the cost of both transit improvements and construction projects on the I-287 roadway, and then attributing the total entirely to transit.

In releasing the DEIS, the state DOT and Thruway Authority put out a press release filled, as is usual, with supportive quotes from elected officials and interest groups. Though the pro-transit coalition is growing rapidly -- 14 Westchester municipalities signed on in support of transit just yesterday -- the press release includes a political setback for a multi-modal Tappan Zee as well.

State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Member Kenneth Zembrowski, both of whom had signed on to a December letter demanding transit on the new Tappan Zee Bridge from the start, were each quoted applauding the DEIS for moving the project forward. "While the mass transit component of a new Tappan Zee Bridge is important, it obviously cannot eclipse the need to provide stability to our infrastructure, a boost to the economy and much needed jobs," said Stewart-Cousins.

In a better sign for transit, county executives Rob Astorino and C. Scott Vanderhoef were conspicuously absent from the state's press release. Both elected officials have demanded transit across the bridge, and it looks like Cuomo couldn't pick them off for this media moment. If New York is going to overcome the Cuomo administration's shortsighted decision to build a Tappan Zee without transit, these two county leaders may have to lead the charge.

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