Tappan Zee panel weighs plan to give Rockland riders easier access to Tarrytown station

An artist's rendition of the design for the An artist's rendition of the design for the new Tappan Zee Bridge that was selected by a panel of experts as the best value among the three proposals submitted. The winning design must be approved by the State Thruway Authority. (Dec. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: NYnewbridge.com

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A Tappan Zee Bridge task force is weighing a plan to give Rockland bus riders an exit ramp off a new bridge span so that buses from Rockland can quickly drop riders off at a Metro North train station in nearby Tarrytown.

The proposal was among dozens considered Friday by a Mass Transit Task Force appointed by the New York Thruway Authority to come up with ideas for getting commuters out of their cars and speeding their trips through the I-287 corridor.

At this point, the ideas discussed are just that.

Recommendations by the 31-member task force will be turned over to the Thruway Authority, which will have the final say on what -- if anything -- gets added to current plans to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge at a cost of $3.9 billion.

The potential cost, as well as impact on neighboring communities, will have to be considered before any proposal is approved, said Tom Madison, the executive director of the New York State Thruway Authority.

"They'll all have different kinds of impacts on the communities," Madison said following the event at Dominican College in Orangeburg.

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During the task force's third meeting -- its first open to the public -- members listened to presentations by planners from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and from Rockland and Westchester counties regarding trends in housing, travel and population.

For instance, Tom Vanderbeek, Rockland County's commissioner for planning and public transportation, told the panel that most residents from his county drive to work in New York City because of the lack of so-called "one-seat" mass transit options -- the kind where you don't have to make a connection.

Nearly 70 percent of Rockland residents drive alone or carpool into the city, Vanderbeek said. Of the remaining 30 percent, two of every three take a bus, he said. The rest take a rail line.

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The new exit ramp discussed Friday would provide a quick, direct route to the Tarrytown station.

"It's a very circuitous route," Vanderbeek said of the present situation.

Also being considered is the addition of a Metro-North train station at the base of the bridge in Tarrytown, one that could be accessed via an extra-long escalator, like those used at some Washington Metro stations.

Tarrytown mayor Drew Fixell said the issue would have to be studied more closely to see how much it would cost. But, he said, a new station would create less of "an imposition" than the ramp.

"It's not an engineering impossibility," Fixell said. "The question is can you do it? What does it cost? We understand it's not an easy thing. It's not a cheap thing."

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Vanderbeek's Westchester counterpart, Ed Burroughs, suggested that buses should come off the bridge and head to the White Plains train station instead. Burroughs said such an option might be a better -- and cheaper -- solution than adding an exit ramp in Tarrytown.

"The only way it's going to be faster is if there's a separate ramp that goes down to that station and whether that's feasible and how much it costs is a question we need to find out," Burroughs said. "If the cost is outrageous, it would be faster to White Plains than through the streets of Tarrytown."

Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) wasn't enthused about having buses streaming into downtown White Plains.

"I understand why you would want to take those people coming off the bridge to White Plains," Paulin said. "It's a bigger hub, but it is more time-consuming. It's a lot farther distance than, for instance, going to the Tarrytown station. We're going to make it inconvenient for folks. We're going to make it more time consuming."

Current plans for the bridge call for a dedicated rush-hour lane to handle bus traffic.

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo created the task force after Hudson Valley political leaders -- among them the county executives from Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties -- said mass transit options needed to be considered before they could throw their support behind the plan.

Cuomo's position has been that the addition of heavy-duty mass transit -- such as rail lines -- would nearly double the cost of the new bridge. The governor's aides have instead offered the bus lane and assurances that the bridge will be built sturdily enough to handle rail lines in the future.

Rail advocates were upset the panel doesn't appear to be giving serious thought to adding a light rail option.

"To exclude light rail from any planning is a huge mistake," said Orrin Getz, the head of the Empire State Passengers Association, who lives in New City.

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