Doing It Their Way: The Tappan Zee Bridge

A new Tappan Zee Bridge will serve the interstate highway system, but not the river communities in South Nyack and Tarrytown

By Arthur H. Gunther III




How would you feel if someone with clout and cash decided to throw a party in your home, didn’t invite you, left a mess and couldn’t remember your name? 

That’s about to happen in South Nyack, N.Y., and Tarrytown, just across the mighty Hudson River, a National Historic waterway that itself should get more respect. I mean Henry Hudson explored this part of America, right? 

He found the river though he was seeking the Northwest Passage, but it now appears transportation gurus in Washington and at Albany, directed by a president and governor, can’t find post-exploration settlements on the Hudson’s shore. And they have GPS. If they could, taxpayers at South Nyack and Tarrytown would like them to come visit, sit a spell and tell them what to expect when a new bridge is built joining the communities. 

Actually, a crossing already exists – the , named by a newspaper editor (Norman R. Baker of The Journal-News) but since 1994 officially termed the Gov. Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge. Built in 1955. it was constructed on the cheap to save money and to get it up  quickly. It was designed as the New York State Thruway’s “cash register on the Hudson,” to pay off the bonding. 

The bridge, carrying far more traffic than originally expected and requiring super-costly renovation, is now said to be failing, though there is dispute over this, and special interests like the trucking lobby and construction unions want it replaced.

A nearly $6 billion, two-bridge choice is to be designed as quickly as the last one.

That’s where the disrespect for South Nyack and Tarrytown comes into play. 

It seems the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, not required in the 1950s but now at least an attempt to address land, water, air and people issues, has not properly examined the effects on either side of the Hudson.  

Why not? The Thruway backs up daily in both locations and vehicle emissions fill the air. Trucks are a special problem, their diesel exhaust clearly visible as a tripling of pre-1990 truck traffic continues. The new crossings’ landfall also will affect property values and quality of life during and after construction, and promises even more traffic.  

President Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have fast-tracked bridge replacement, contending it will create jobs in an economy in need of re-invention as well as assure the soundness of the interstate system. So they will occupy South Nyack and Tarrytown to get the job done, hardly caring if they make a mess of life there.

It’s their party, though the bridge jobs will be temporary and the new crossings will be as impotent in moving increasing traffic as is the present bridge.  

Decades ago, the interstate system should have constructed a major connector road between I-84 and I-95, so that trucks bound for New England go north and east and do not need to take the Tappan Zee. That should have been done before I-287 opened in the early 1990s, almost doubling Tappan Zee truck traffic overnight. Also, a one-seat ride should have been provided for commuters west of the river. And a dedicated bus lane should have been established on the bridge.

Those two moves would have reduced auto traffic. 

Now, with fast-track design, bidding and construction ever so rapidly approaching, these old issues still have not been resolved. South Nyack, which lost hundreds of homes and its entire downtown through state seizure in the first Tappan Zee build, will get another sock in the jaw. And that punch will vibrate over the Hudson at Tarrytown, too. 

Nice when some have friends in high places. Not so nice if those friends are your enemies.

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william hart May 08, 2012 at 03:20 PM
It seems like you- and several posters here- are in the know. What needs to happen to address this is a massive undertaking, though, and requires coordination. Is there a single website that is a portal for news and information? I gather there are various groups opposed to the 'new' bridge for various reasons, but is there any coordination? There needs to be a liason to government, and one to the mainstream media. I know, having lived in Brooklyn Heights many years ago, that -long before the Internet, and the ability to access government files, that neighborhood successfully thwarted Robert Moses' plan to gut the neighborhood by running the highway through the middle of it. Compare Sunset Heights for a neighorhood that did not have the resources to oppose- it was cut in two, and to my knowledge, never recovered. The question is largely one of organization, money, time commitment and coordination of resources- lot's of smart, earnest folks around here who could pitch in. And, it is not just about stopping progress- any plan must take account of mass transit, in addition to all the other concerns that are being raised. Me, I'm planning to move. Not because of this, but we are relocating to Austin as soon as our house in Grandview sells. I'll miss this neighborhood- and am glad to contribute some time and a little money. But, I think we all need a little direction, so it's not just pissing in the Internet wind. Best, Bill Hart
John Gromada May 08, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Art, the problem is that the condition of the bridge is really not at issue- except when used occasionally as a scare tactic by some people who have a stake in replacing it. The Thruway Authority has said many times that the bridge is safe to cross, and people should feel confident that it is not falling down. Cuomo wants to replace it as a jobs program and apparently an ego boost. The DOT and Thruway Authority still seem to harbor the outdated idea that building wider roads and bridges eases congestion when in fact the opposite has been shown to be true. Back in 2000 we pushed for an independent review of the bridge condition data- don't know if it's possible or fruitful. At this point I thing the best hope for us is the endangered species act and the sturgeon- which the state seems to care nothing about. Their environmental 'review' is a joke, and is leaving the project open to all sorts of legal challenges which could slow or stop the project
art gunther III May 08, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Well, it was an environmental argument that killed the awful plan to build yet another massive interstate slicing up NYC -- the original West Side Highway replacement under Mayor Koch that, in Robert Moses-fashion would have destroyed Chelsea and other neighborhoods now being revived. So, who knows? Perhaps the ecology approach might bring a least sufficient pause in the TZB juggernaught for better planning to happen. As a retired newspaper editorialist, I am merely repeating arguments made over and over, often reinforced by the public but ignored by government and its special interests.
George Datino May 08, 2012 at 03:57 PM
"... ignored by government and its special interests". Aren't they one and the same???
art gunther III May 08, 2012 at 04:41 PM
George, Abe Lincoln said it was "government of, by, for the people," but that was before so much big money began to finance campaigns, keep people in office and really run things. If there is ever another American revolution, it will be to fund all elections by public money only.


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