Tappan Zee Plans Flunk New York’s Smart Growth Test

The Cuomo administration’s plan for an extra-wide, transit-free Tappan Zee Bridge is exactly the kind of project that New York state’s smart growth law is supposed to prevent.

The Cuomo administration's draft EIS for the new Tappan Zee Bridge makes a mockery of New York's smart growth law.

Passed in 2010 under David Paterson’s administration, the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act requires any state infrastructure project to meet 10 smart growth criteria. Under the law, the state should only build projects that support sustainability and downtown revitalization, not sprawl.

Nowhere is the Cuomo administration’s hypocrisy regarding the Tappan Zee Bridge project more clearly displayed than in its arguments that the new bridge complies with the smart growth law. In its draft environmental impact statement, the state walks through each of the 10 smart growth criteria, arguing that a new Tappan Zee with no transit and twice the width of the current bridge fits the bill. In the process, the fact that Cuomo’s Tappan Zee is really not a smart growth bridge becomes painfully clear.

Criterion 6, for example, requires the project to “provide mobility through transportation choices including improved public transportation and reduced automobile dependency.” The state argues that since the new bridge will “improve mobility” with highway improvements, it’s consistent with this requirement. “In addition,” reads the draft EIS, “the bridge would be designed not to preclude transit.” Not precluding transit, of course, is hardly the same as improving it. Instead of reducing automobile dependency, the project does the opposite, spending billions to improve car commutes and double the width of the bridge.

Criterion 5 calls for infrastructure “to foster mixed land uses and compact development, downtown revitalization, brownfield redevelopment, the enhancement of beauty in public spaces, the diversity and affordability of housing in proximity to places of employment, recreation and commercial development and the integration of all income and age groups.” In a brazen affront to common sense and empirical evidence, the Cuomo administration denies that transportation decisions even affect the way regions develop. “Not Applicable,” the DEIS says. “The Replacement Bridge Alternative would be a transportation infrastructure improvement project” and “would not directly affect community development.”

If smart growth means anything, it means understanding how a cars-only bridge promotes dispersed, sprawling development while including transit would help promote growth in town centers. It means acknowledging how automobile-dependency isolates low-income and elderly people who rely on transit.

It goes on like that. The smart growth law requires projects to “promote sustainability by strengthening existing and creating new communities which reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” The Cuomo administration ticks that one off its list by touting the emissions reductions from reducing the number of congestion-causing accidents and eliminating the need to move the median barrier with a diesel engine. (The median barrier is moved every day so that the seven lane bridge can always have four lanes in the peak direction.) The state claims that the Tappan Zee project is exempt from a requirement to participate in “community-based planning” because it “is a large-scale regional transportation initiative.”

In claiming that the Tappan Zee Bridge meets the requirements of the smart growth law, the state elegantly shows just how much this bridge fails to meet the state’s purported development goals. A bridge with room for seven lanes of traffic on each span but no space for transit is exactly the kind of 1950s sprawl generator that the smart growth law should prohibit.

  • Highly amusing is Criterion 8, “to participate in community-based planning and collaboration” which they deem “not applicable.” Guess they’re not entirely lying there, since Cuomo and his ilk usurped a decade of community-based planning and collaboration to ram this project through without transit.

  • J

    Is this from the Onion? Seriously? It looks like Moses himself wrote this section. Large-scale projects need the MOST community input, hence the 280 community meetings about this project. As far as I can tell, this project meets almost none of the Smart Growth goals. What use is this policy if it is simply ignored? Can you sue the state for publishing a highly unsubstantiated and blatantly dishonest EIS?

  • Anon

    And the residents at the new smart growth development, Tarry Landing, next to the Tarrytown train station get a giant construction platform outside their bedroom window for 5 years:  “On the Tarrytown waterfront, the temporary platform would be approximately 600 feet
    from the shore, opposite the Tarry Landing neighborhood and approximately 400 feet
    south of the entrance to the Tarrytown Boat Club Marina. While the existing bridge
    would screen most of the platform and its activity from residences to the south, the
    residents near the river to the north would have direct views of the platform.

    The DEIS claims: “Visibility of the temporary platform would not alter the existing community character.” A giant construction platform would definitely impact community character.

  • Guest

    J: Yes, you can sue to try to block a project for which the EIS was not adequate.  See Sierra Club v US Army Corps of Engineers, a case I am sure Gov. Cuomo (the younger)’s father is familiar with.  (This is the case that stopped the Westway superhighway along the West Side and allowed us to eventually get the Hudson River Park.)  It’s probably time for the local environmental and transit advocacy groups to start saving their pennies for litigation if this is to be stopped.

  • What the heck is wrong with Mr. Cuomo? Has he been in a coma since working for HUD? How can he consciously ignore the major structural changes happening to this country? Who/what is pushing him to do this? He can’t be pushing forward with this scheme under his own accord. And the most amazing part of this is: Obama is his enabler.

  • Guest

    Poor planning pushed upon communities…Does Cuomo care about this historical area and how fast tracking this bridge will destroy our environment, way of life, etc.
    Will there be any lawsuits to stop this or in the very least provide more studies.
    Growth Point Goals…net none.


American Planning Association Chapter Demolishes Cuomo Tappan Zee Claims

The New York area’s urban planning community issued a striking rebuke to the Cuomo administration over its plans for a new Tappan Zee Bridge last week. In a letter to the state Department of Transportation [PDF], the regional chapter of the American Planning Association, which represents 1,200 professional planners, challenged the Cuomo administration’s claims about […]

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 […]