Hasty Vote on Cuomo’s TZ Bridge May Violate Federal Rules [Updated]

Now that the Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam county executives have signaled their support for a new Tappan Zee Bridge, the Cuomo administration is again pushing the project forward at a furious pace. So fast, in fact, that it may violate federal rules.

Friday afternoon in August? Time to quietly give notice about a hastily convened vote on the region's biggest infrastructure project. Photo: ##http://www.newsday.com/opinion/keep-up-tappan-zee-pressure-1.3243937##Angel Franco/Newsday##

Notice went out this afternoon that the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council will vote on the bridge Monday morning at 9:30. The vote is a critical step toward receiving federal financing for the bridge, and holding it so soon after NYMTC gave notice appears to violate the agency’s federally mandated Public Involvement Plan.

According to a draft of NYMTC’s plan from April 2012 [PDF] (the only version currently accessible on the agency’s website, most of which happens to be down at the moment):

All official meetings of NYMTC, its TCCs and its designated committees convened to conduct the public business of NYMTC are open to the public and are subject to the following procedures:

1. Public notice of official meetings will be made a minimum of two weeks prior to the meeting in a manner consistent with Section 1 of these procedures.

a. In the event of emergency official meetings, notice will be posted on the website and through social media a minimum of 72 hours in advance of the meeting.

It’s not clear what qualifies as an “emergency meeting” but this one was scheduled so quickly it even violates the 72-hour rule.

UPDATE: A NYMTC spokesperson says the agency has yet to finally adopt the Public Involvement Plan, and that all the internal procedures for Monday’s meeting are in order. Citing the state’s open meetings law, NYMTC also says the agency is only required to give notification “to the extent practicable” and “at a reasonable time prior thereto,” because this meeting was scheduled less than a week in advance. The law sets out higher standards for public notice regarding meetings that are scheduled at least a week ahead of time. So the Cuomo administration is taking full advantage of the fact that the more you rush important public meetings in New York state, the less notice you have to provide.

While Cuomo seems to have the votes in hand, the county execs apparently weren’t expecting such a hasty vote when they announced their support for the bridge yesterday. At yesterday’s press conference, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said he expected the vote to come in September.

There are good reasons for Astorino and the other execs to demand more time.

  • There’s still no financial plan to speak of. Two weeks ago, Cuomo administration officials let slip that covering the full cost of the bridge would necessitate tripling current Tappan Zee tolls. Then the governor backtracked from raising tolls that high. No one really knows how the state will pay for this bridge.
  • While the county execs got promises of a “Regional Transit Task Force” in exchange for their votes, it hasn’t been revealed who will sit on the task force, or who will appoint them. A group composed of independent experts with solid transportation and land use chops could be much more effective at keeping up the pressure for Rockland-Westchester transit than a group of Cuomo yes-men.

Ironically, the announcement from NYMTC comes while the agency has been touting its new effort to get the public involved in long-range regional planning.

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