The New York State Thruway Authority's plan to shift cars and trucks from the existing Tappan Zee Bridge to a replacement span in 2016 won't cause nightmarish traffic jams, state and local officials said Tuesday.
The officials explained that although only one of the new bridge's twin spans across the Hudson River is scheduled to be completed at that point, the single span's traffic handling capacity will be at least equal to that of the existing bridge.
In fact, officials said, commuters might have an easier time on the 3-mile crossing between Westchester and Rockland counties when driving across the single span rather than on the deteriorating bridge they use now.
"The way they are doing it is such that traffic will flow as it does today or better," said David Aukland, the Village of Tarrytown's liaison to the Thruway Authority and Tappan Zee Constructors, the Texas-based consortium tapped to build the $3.9 billion bridge.
All seven lanes of the current Tappan Zee Bridge are only a combined 87 feet wide, officials familiar with the details of the project explained. Although a single span of the new bridge temporarily would be the sole crossing over the Hudson during a transitional period, that single span would offer a greater width of usable pavement, at 96 feet wide, officials said. It's likely that the half-completed bridge will offer fewer lanes than the old Tappan Zee but will move traffic more efficiently all the same, according to officials.
Fears of big traffic jams arose Tuesday after a public meeting Monday night in which Thruway Authority officials and representatives of Tappan Zee Constructors said they would divert traffic to a single span of the new bridge for a period of two years while they dismantle the old bridge and build the second span of the new one in its place.
The first span to be completed will be the northern span of the new Tappan Zee in 2018.
On Tuesday, Hudson Valley residents were wondering how half of the new bridge could possibly accommodate as many vehicles as the entire old bridge.
"It is going to be extremely inconvenient," said Ravi Krishnappa, a Tarrytown resident. "Given the fact that even right now, just on the weekend sometimes, when they close one of the lanes, I find it hard when I got to get back from New Jersey, on a Saturday evening or Sunday evening.
"It's going to be very hard," Krishnappa added. "It's going to be a very grueling two years if that's the plan."
Both state and local officials were quick to explain why the new bridge will be more efficient than the existing bridge, mentioning wider lanes, straighter approaches and high-speed, cashless tolls designed to keep traffic flowing.
"The plan is to shift traffic off the old bridge as soon as possible, and the new northern span will actually have more capacity, which should reduce congestion and improve traffic flow, and those are the facts," said Thruway Authority spokesman Dan Weiller.
The only time traffic might tend to snarl is when construction crews are putting the final touches on the roadways from Interstate 287 to the new bridge, Aukland said. That will require workers to impede traffic temporarily as workers clear a new road to the new bridge, he said.
Other officials familiar with the project agreed but did not wish to be identified.
Aukland, who sat on the committee of experts and local representatives appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to recommend a bridge design to the Thruway Authority, said he and his colleagues would not have approved a contractor to build the new Tappan Zee without a workable transition plan.
"We would not have gotten anywhere near to selecting them if they didn't have a good plan to handle traffic," he said of Tappan Zee Constructors.
FOOT, BICYCLE TRAFFIC
Questions about traffic continued Tuesday night as Thruway Authority officials and Tappan Zee Constructors executives crossed the bridge to host their first joint public meeting in Rockland County at Nyack High School. In addition to concerns about vehicular bottlenecks, questions were raised by residents about the expected crush of foot and bicycle traffic descending on South Nyack from two new walkways, one for each of the two new spans.
The paths also will feature six belvederes -- scenic spots with benches protected by anti-climb fencing and surveillance cameras.
Creating parking and public toilets for these visitors is easier on the Westchester side because "there's a state trooper area on the Tarrytown side that will work," said Brian Conybeare, Cuomo's spokesman for the bridge. But providing those amenities are still unresolved in Rockland because there is so little open space in South Nyack.
Conybeare promised the audience of about 130 locals that officials "will find a way," adding, "We don't want people walking and parking all over your neighborhoods."
At the end of the two-hour meeting, South Nyack Mayor Tish DuBow said she was "pleased" to get some new information from the session and plans to "dig deeper" Wednesday morning, when she and other village leaders will meet privately with bridge project officials to press for more answers on parking issues and ways to transform Thruway Exit 10 from an eyesore into a functional, attractive public space.
Bridge project officials also announced on Tuesday the opening of two community outreach centers where the public can drop by for information and to air concerns. Open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the centers are at 142 Main St. in Nyack and 303 S. Broadway in Tarrytown.
The quest for public input will continue Wednesday, when an administrative law judge from the state Department of Environmental Conservation will listen to public comments on the draft permit that must be finalized before bridge construction can begin. The meeting will be at the Comfort Inn and Suites at 425 E. Route 59 in Nanuet. There will be sessions at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
On Thursday, the same judge is scheduled to conduct hearings at the same times at the Westchester Marriott, at 670 White Plains Rd. in Tarrytown.
The public is invited to take the microphone on a first-come, first-served basis at any of the sessions, or to submit opinions in writing.
Betty Ming Liu contributed to this story.