A leading transportation advocate expressed frustration Friday with the state's go-slow approach toward the creation of bus lanes that would carry commuters over a new Tappan Zee Bridge and into neighboring towns.
Veronica Vanterpool, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, used the monthly meeting of the New York State Thruway's Mass Transit Task Force -- held this month at a hotel in Suffern -- to vent her displeasure.
"We're left with this feeling 'oh, well, there's not enough money,'" Vanterpool said, after a state transportation official told the 31-member panel about state and federal funding options.
Vanterpool chided state officials for a lack of resolve on the bus lanes.
"We can't afford a new bridge at $3.9 billion, but we are building a new bridge," Vanterpool said. "We need to have the same approach."
Tri-State envisions bus-only lanes that would reach into towns throughout the Interstate 287 corridor and channel traffic over the new bridge. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is pushing for a less ambitious plan to have buses come off the bridge and deliver commuters to a Metro-North station in White Plains.
Thruway Authority Executive Director Tom Madison defended the state's aggressive approach to the bridge project itself, calling the replacement of the existing Tappan Zee bridge a pressing state need.
"It's an important link in our 587-mile Thruway system," Madison said. "It's in a state of disrepair. It's well established that it needs to be replaced and we're making that investment."
Madison dismissed suggestions that the state does not have a financing plan for the new bridge.
"The bridge is funded," Madison said. "The bridge is going to be paid for by toll-backed bonds. We are going to be pursuing vigorously a significant loan from the federal government."
The state announced last month that the feds have agreed to give the state a $1.5 billion loan that would kick-start funding for a new twin span. The remainder of the cost would be paid for through issuance of bonds. In the end, both the bonds and the loan would be paid off with toll revenues.
The loan remains on hold while the federal Department of Transportation conducts a review of the authority's creditworthiness and its ability to pay back the money it intends to borrow.
Vanterpool, along with county executives from throughout the Hudson Valley, has pushed the state to consider adding mass transit features to the new bridge. Their pleas led the Cuomo administration to create the task force, which will offer recommendations before the year's end.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said that adding mass transit now would nearly double the cost of a new bridge and bog down the start of construction as towns debated mass transit options. Cuomo has agreed to add a dedicated bus-only lane to the new bridge at rush hour.