A New Tappan Zee Bridge
What will replace Westchester’s iconic landmark?
(page 1 of 2)
The new bridge calls for the inclusion of light rail to connect with the county’s existing Metro-North service.
The largest capital project in New York is the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge and it is moving along at the pace of traffic across the span, which is to say, not very fast at all. Following years of studies, the powers that be have announced plans to build a grand new bridge, tear down the old one (before it falls down), and revolutionize the way traffic moves through the Hudson Valley.
Will it ever happen? It’s mostly a matter of desire and willpower, not to mention lots and lots of money. Officialdom seems to be behind the project, environmentalists aren’t convinced we need it, and public opinion depends largely on how many years of a person’s life have been spent stuck in traffic on the bridge. There are some major obstacles yet to be overcome, but there could well be a new TZB in our future.
At this point, it’s hard to say what the new bridge will look like, but the New York Department of Transportation (DOT) is clear about what features it wants it to have. Instead of the current seven vehicle lanes, there will be eight (four in each direction). In addition, the bridge will carry dedicated lanes for a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that runs from Suffern to Port Chester and a commuter rail line that will connect with Metro-North in Tarrytown.
The goal is to not just alleviate current congestion, but to provide for substantial growth of traffic across the river in the future. When the bridge was opened in 1955, it was designed to carry 100,000 vehicles each day. Today’s volume is 135,000. By 2035, current projections call for 161,000, whether or not a new bridge is constructed. According to my rough calculations, if all those additional cars were lined up in one lane, the backup would stretch from the bridge all the way to Kingston, more than 80 miles away.
Then there is the condition of the bridge today. Not too long ago, drivers could catch glimpses of the river as they drove over gaping holes in the deck. Massive construction plates routinely shredded tires and tied up traffic for hours as the roadway was repaired and reinforced. An engineering study in 2000 reported that wind loads are actually greater than the bridge was originally designed to handle, and revealed that the bridge is vulnerable to seismic activity.
Repairing the current bridge was one of many options considered, but it was eventually discarded by the state. Project Director Michael Anderson says, “The existing bridge has inherent vulnerabilities and the main spans will continue to have problems, rusting forever.” Numerous alternatives were studied, but all were costly. The cheapest was a bare-bones maintenance project for the current bridge at $900 million; the next was a major refurbishment to bring it up to par structurally for $3.4 billion.
But these are repairs; neither option would get more people across the river any faster, nor would they do anything to establish a cross-county rapid transit system that we sorely need, according to Anderson. He says there are two commuter markets that must be served by whatever is built. One is the cross-county and intra-county travel; the other is commuters from west of the Hudson, who would use the bridge to go to Manhattan if they had the opportunity. About 8,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge each day, too, many if not most of them local delivery trucks of one sort or another. Watching them idle in traffic is an economic and environmental nightmare.
Currently, more than 18,000 people commute across the bridge each day to jobs in Westchester, the Bronx, and Connecticut, according to DOT figures. Major destinations are White Plains, Route 9A north of Elmsford, and along the Broadway corridor in Tarrytown. Another 8,000 travel from Orange County. Nearly 5,000 Westchester residents drive across the bridge to Rockland and Orange County work destinations each day. “As business grows in Westchester and jobs increase, we will continue to draw commuters from all over the region as part of our labor force,” says Marsha Gordon, president of the Westchester Business Council and co-chair of the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Futures Task Force. “It goes both ways; as the regional economy grows, Westchester residents will have more choices about where to work.”