Two additional pieces snapped into the bridge replacement puzzle last month —New York State moved a bit closer to securing its hoped-for federal loan, and a Visual Quality Panel (VQP) joined the growing list of committees.
Although the state may receive less than the $1.5 billion earlier reported by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, its TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan application will now undergo a creditworthiness review by an independent financial advisor hired by the US Department of Transportation.
“This is another important step forward for the new NY bridge project, one that will help keep tolls affordable for motorists,” Cuomo.
Project cost shares eligible for TIFIA coverage were previously limited to 33 percent; the bridge replacement project is being advanced through the review process based on that percentage. States can apply for up to 49 percent of a project’s eligible costs, potentially up to $2 billion.
The US DOT has received a $100,000 down payment, standard cost for all project sponsors seeking this loan.
“The Thruway Authority has sought the maximum amount of federal support for which the project is eligible, which under the TIFIA program includes a broader definition that goes beyond construction costs,” special project advisor Brian Conybeare said.
A mid-summer fear had residents wondering if they’d have to pay $14 cash for a transit-ready bridge, $13.30 with E-ZPass®, and $168 for commuters ($8.40 per trip) was quelled when Cuomo called for a task force of Thruway Authority, state, federal and local officials to find alternate revenue sources, generators and cost reductions.
Cars now pay $5 cash, $4.75 with E-ZPass®, and commuters pay $3 (20-trip booklet for $60), and while the loan will help keep tolls below those tripled projections, it will eventually cost more for that three-mile trip.
“Although the Governor sought more, any substantial sum, even if less that $1.5 billion, will bring major relief for tax and toll payers,” Tarrytown liaison/representative on the project David Aukland said.
Aukland joins Irving Neighborhood Preservation Association President Weisel and Irvington resident Elma Reingold on the 16-member VQP, charged with focusing on bridge aesthetics — shared use path on the northern span, belvederes, landscaping, art, historic/cultural installations, and lighting — and hearing community input.
Last month, the public was asked to choose one of two designs: Option A, the original design (described in Tappan Zee Constructor’s proposal), showed flat, rectangular, and squared towers 409 feet above the water. Option B, the recommended design, showed chamfered (angled) towers 419 feet above the water, and provides a more slender appearance.
Hundred of comments later, the public chose, and the panel recommended, Option B. Regardless of the preferred tower design, residents of the 89-unit Quay Condominiums have plenty to say about the path — namely, they would like it moved elsewhere.
“Our unit does not face the river, yet our back yard is in direct line with the new bridge as it connects to land,” Roger Ardan said. “If the walking path is on the northern span, then that will be the closest part to our unit and backyard.”
“Anyone can walk along and look in our back yard and windows,” he said, worried about privacy issues.
Board of Managers president Alice Goldberg asked it be built on the southern span.
“We (homeowners) are already seeing a major impact by the proximity of the bridge, and believe the designers should accommodate the community to avoid having pedestrians and bikers right over our property,” Goldberg said.
If the path can’t be moved to the southern span, then Sherry Alperstein said it would be less intrusive on the south side of the northern span. “(As it is now), we’ll be disproportionately impacted to everyone around us by the bridge and the path,” she said.
Goldberg wants the VQP to include a Quay resident “so that our design needs will be directly addressed.”
All ideas will be considered by the VQP, which will note residents’ concerns, including commuters and those driving across the bridge, pedestrians and bicyclists, and residents whose homes face the bridge and/or river.
Meanwhile, Cuomo announced last week the state has reached an agreement with Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson on permits that will include extensive environmental protective measures and mitigation funding to proetct the Hudson River and minimize other impacts during the construction of the bridge.
“We will continue to ensure that the new Tappan Zee Bridge is built in a way that safeguards our river while providing local communities with the modern infrastructure they need,” said Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper.
The new Tappan Zee Bridge construction project is but one step away from getting a financial boost from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Governor Cuomo's office has announced. Before awarding a $1.5 billion federal loan to the NY Thruway Authority, the DOT will be conducting a required credit review of the project. New York State must put up $100,000 to pay for the financial advisors who will review the project.
A $2 billion loan had been long sought by Governor Cuomo to cover a bit more than half cost of the $3.9 billion construction price tag.
A release from the Governor's office noted that, " In addition to the potential funding from this TIFIA loan, New York State continues to seek additional financial support to reduce costs from federal, state and local sources and will be using the Toll Task Force to identify alternative financing sources and keep tolls low."
Criticized by the N.Y. Comptroller's office for its lack of a firm financing plan, the Thruway Authority has been reluctant to specify what the new tolls might be. However, the Thruway had advised that if it did not receive the total $2 billion requested, it could lead to, “significantly higher, earlier and more frequent toll increases at the bridge, impacting the regional economy and job-creating benefits of the project.”
"This is another important step forward for the new NY bridge project, one that will help keep tolls affordable for motorists," Cuomo stated.. "Today's action is also amplified by the fact that under design build the selected bridge plan came in $1 billion under the expected price, maximizing the impact of this major financial support," the Governor added.
Travel patterns, demographics and rapid progress challenge the task force exploring mass transit options for the new bridge and the I-287 corridor.
“People of all ages now ride buses, whereas (passengers) used to be the elderly and those who didn’t have a driver’s license,” White Plains Mayor Tom Roach said last month at Dominican College. “These days passengers aren’t willing to drive an hour in the car to work.”
At its third, and first public, meeting the group — co-chaired by Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas J. Madison and DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald — brainstormed county-specific and regional solutions.
Peak and rush hour travel times are gone; commuters ride the rails — and reverse commute — days, nights, and weekends, partly because of expanding health care, education and technology. Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow has been the exclusive Westchester location for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (in New York City) since 1996.
“People are getting off the train in Tarrytown in scrubs,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority director of special project development and planning William Wheeler said. “So when you come up with a solution, it’s not just going to be for the morning and evening commute. It’s going to have to be for the middle of the day, the evening and in many different directions.”
Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef noted changes are a function of affordable housing rather than transportation. “The group needs to consider people, specifically the elder population, who have trouble getting around.”
Corporate development in the Platinum Mile encourages redevelopment like housing, retail and sidewalks linked by transit to one another and to the existing downtowns. “The challenge is connectivity,” Westchester County Commissioner Ed Buroughs said. Despite rapid growth, Westchester is at a crossroads since the northern areas, where a car is often necessary, are more rural.
The counties need a bus rapid transit system, not a service, to reach commuters to this area who don’t have rail access, Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool said.
“We need to focus on mass transit in the I-287 corridor and a one-stop ride from Rockland to New York City,” former Westchester County Transportation Commissioner Larry Salley said. “It will cost $750,000 for one bus, and we had to expand service beyond peak hours. We need to find innovative ways to finance whatever alternative is needed.”
There was a brief discussion about revamping Exit 10, which will be a staging area for the bridge replacement project.
“Bridge construction and mitigation have a different set of requirements than does the traffic mitigation,” Karen Rae, Deputy Secretary of Transportation in the governor’s office, said. “Lack of (highway) shoulders will be problematic until the bridge is finished.”
Vanderhoef suggested building a ramp that would loop off the new bridge, travel under it, and connect to a road leading to Metro-North’s Tarrytown train station about one mile north, expanding the Tappan ZEExpress Bus into Westchester. The five or 10 minutes saved would mean an extra presence in several Tarrytown neighborhoods, and add to the station’s crowding.
“I’d like to see a real look at a bus transfer station,” Tarrytown Mayor Drew Fixell said. The idea revives a 1999 concept whereby passengers bussed from Rockland would debark and take an elevator to a new Metro-North station under the bridge.
“Though we are far from being able to say it will be included in the project, I was encouraged that the concept seems to be being taken seriously,” Fixell said later.
“I noticed the word convenient was missing — that’s an important word,” Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (88th District) commented. “Also, time is an important word. It’s inconvenient and time-consuming to take people from the bridge to White Plains.”
“It was really good to hear some of the visionary ideas available for the future, for the mixed use of the office complexes east of White Plains, and to note how vital the roll of mass transit will be,” Tarrytown liaison/representative on the project David Aukland said. “I look forward to this team coming up with short and long term rollouts that will reshape the way we live in this community.”
The task force will convene March 15 in Westchester for a strategic planning session, as the group funnels suggestions and works toward recommendations.