Yesterday The New York Times launched an ongoing series (at least three years to come) with a major piece and online visuals on one of America’s biggest construction projects—and I can watch it, right from my front yard at the top of the hill overlooking the Hudson River.
It’s the $4 billion replacement for one of longest bridges anywhere, at over three miles, the Tappan Zee, which joins Rockland to Westchester counties just north of New York City. The TZ was built at virtually the widest part of the Hudson and why it was built in the mid-1950s here—well, it’s a long, sordid story but we’ll leave that for now.
What’s not in the rah-rah Times story are several key points, including a promised massive toll hike (doubling the current rate) to pay for the bridge, which was minimized in the steamrolling for the new structure. Plus: while the bridge aims to sharply reduce traffic congestion it actually will offer not a single new lane of rush-hour access. Right now the seven lanes on the bridge are adjusted so you get four lanes at rush hour in either direction. The new bridge will provide eight lanes—always divided in half.
And most of the traffic congestion is caused not by ultra–bridge traffic but the tightening of Thruway lanes on both sides. And the congestion, even so, has been eased, over the past ten years, by several measures, including expansion of EZ-Pass. Take my word for it—I commuted nearly every day from 2000–09.
There are a few benefits (including a bike/walking “lane” and a lane for the relatively few buses that use the span), but commuters will likely be bitching about continued tie-ups—at twice the toll. Love this from the Times’ story: “Bottlenecks may not end entirely.” Ya think?
Early on, when residents questioned why, after all these years, a new bridge would not include rail service from train-poor Rockland to train-rich Westchester, the state dangled the possibility of future tracks attached to the bridge but that’s nearly a pipedream at this point—with staggering costs if ever attempted.
The Times also repeats the (likely) urban legend that when the bridge was built it was expected to last only fifty years. We heard that up here from the press and bridge advocates for years, but when critics pressed for an actual source none could be found. Perhaps they’ve found it since, but I’d like to see it.
Also minimized by officials, and the Times, are the certain disruptions in existing traffic from the many years of construction to come (by the way, they then have to tear down the current three-mile bridge). Already commuters are fuming about the closing—for the duration—of the key access lane to the bridge on the Tarrytown side, which has caused delays of up to half an hour or more for the daily evening commute. And work has barely begun. State officials had pooh-poohed that first major disruption. Our local paper, the Journal News, observed: “Like so many other aspects of the project, the planned impacts didn’t match the reality.”
Well, at least the Times corrected a rather major error in an earlier version of the story—getting the right name for where the bridge starts/ends in Rockland.
Read Next: John Nichols on how the bridge scandal will affect Christie’s chances in 2016.