Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino expressed support Friday for routing Rockland County buses off the existing Tappan Zee Bridge for a quick trip to the White Plains station, where commuters could catch a Metro-North train into New York City.
In his first public comments on the hot-button topic of transit options for Rockland County commuters, the county executive suggested that, at least in the short term, the most cost-effective solution could be finding a way to move Rockland's Tappan Zee Express buses swiftly along Interstate 287 to the train station in White Plains.
"At least we're getting them into the train station where they can have a one-seat ride into Manhattan, so I think it serves a multiple purpose if we're going across 287 into White Plains," Astorino said at the monthly meeting of the Mass Transit Task Force appointed by the New York State Thruway Authority. The meeting took place in Tarrytown.
The express buses -- managed by Rockland County -- carry passengers from Rockland both to White Plains and to the Tarrytown train station. Rockland officials are pushing for priority access on bridge shoulders, to keep the buses from getting stuck in traffic.
Last year, Astorino was among the most insistent voices calling on the Cuomo administration to consider a mass transit option to be built into the $3.9 billion replacement for the existing Tappan Zee span. Astorino and other Hudson Valley leaders held back support for a new bridge until the state agreed to consider mass transit options.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's response was to create the 31-member task force, which will meet monthly over the next year, before offering its recommendations to the Thruway Authority.
OPTIONS UNDER CONSIDERATION
In recent weeks, members have weighed a number of options:
• Tarrytown Mayor Drew Fixell has suggested building a new Metro-North station under the bridge, to be accessed via escalators or elevators descending from a toll plaza on the new bridge.
• Rockland officials have suggested a new exit ramp to carry buses directly from the bridge to Metro-North's station in Tarrytown.
• Routing of the buses to White Plains has been a popular option among Westchester officials, as the train station in White Plains is capable of handling additional traffic now.
• A bus rapid transit system throughout the Interstate 287 corridor, with bus-only lanes that would speed commutes for tens of thousands. In the long term, Astorino wants a bus rapid transit system between the Palisades Center mall and the White Plains station.
On Friday, Astorino emphasized pragmatism. He suggested that routing express buses to White Plains might be the most realistic option, for now, based on cost.
"Those are the things we need to talk about, because we could be here for years and get into the trillions if we continue to use every option," Astorino said.
The task force's most vocal proponent of the bus rapid transit approach is Veronica Vanterpool, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Vanterpool said having a dedicated bus lane on the bridge -- the current Thruway Authority plan -- is not enough to ease the traffic crunch on the Tappan Zee.
"It's not that hard," Vanterpool said. "We know where folks are traveling to and from. We know that folks are coming from Spring Valley and Nyack and White Plains. We can start small -- that's the beauty of bus rapid transit -- and then extend and build out."
PRICE OF BUS RAPID TRANSIT AN ISSUE
One state estimate pegged the price tag of a full-blown bus rapid transit system at $800 million. State officials contend the cost could surge into the billions if multiple stations are built. Astorino has said bus rapid transit might be a long-term solution to the commuting crunch in the corridor. He noted, however, that in the near term, something needs to be done quickly and efficiently.
"How do you get those buses onto the 287 corridor into White Plains where people can have a much faster commute?" Astorino asked.
Vanterpool says a model exists for an efficient rapid bus system across the river in New Jersey. There, she said about 1,800 buses course through the Lincoln Tunnel during a four-hour period.
"People who are opting to take the bus as opposed to driving are shaving 20 minutes off their commute," Vanterpool said. "Folks see it as a very efficient way of commuting into New York City and they'd be crazy to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel."