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New Tappan Zee Bridge: Mass transit options to ease commute over span being debated

The Hudson line south of the Tarrytown Train

The Hudson line south of the Tarrytown Train Station looking towards the Tappan Zee Bridge. (March 11, 2013) Photo Credit: Lisa Weir

Tarrytown Mayor Drew Fixell envisions massive escalators or elevators ferrying hundreds of Manhattan-bound commuters to a Metro-North station built along the Hudson River beneath a gleaming new Tappan Zee Bridge.

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef would like to see residents shuttled to Metro-North's Tarrytown station by way of a dedicated bus lane or exit ramp that will speed their commute into the city.

And Westchester County planner Ed Burroughs would like those Rockland commuters to head straight up Interstate 287 to the Metro-North station in White Plains for a commute into the city.

Although the suggestions floated by Fixell, Vanderhoef and Burroughs have been frequently discussed, there is no shortage of ideas on how mass transit could ease the crush of commuters expected to course over a new Tappan Zee once it's built.

The question now is which one will catch the eye of the State Thruway Authority and eventually find its way into the design of the new $3.9 billion bridge that's expected to take five years to build.

"We really believe there is a need for mass transit," said Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner. "We need to get people out of their cars. You don't want a bridge that is antiquated on day one."

The state has resisted calls for adding mass transit to the bridge project for now, saying doing so would double the bridge's cost and stall a long-awaited plan before ground is broken.

Instead, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo agreed to add a dedicated rush-hour bus lane and to build the bridge in such a way that mass transit -- even a rail link -- could be added at a later date if the money comes available.

In the meantime, the Thruway Authority created a 28-member mass transit task force of local and state officials to offer up its proposals. The task force is slated to work through the year and then present its recommendations to the state.

The Thruway Authority's executive director, Tom Madison, said he'll listen to all the proposals, weighing costs and community concerns, before deciding which plan -- if any -- goes into the design plan. It's unclear when a final decision will be made.

As the task force tosses proposals around, commuters who live around the bridge are also talking about ideas of their own.

"What we need is a ferry from Manhattan to Tarrytown," said Tarrytown resident Hassan Jarane, 53, a manager at a local specialty food store.

"They should have a train going to Rockland and a tunnel for cars," said Bill Kirk, 30, a plumber from Tarrytown.

Although the particulars remain open to debate, one thing most town officials can agree on is the need for a plan before it's too late.

"If you build the bridge without this in mind, the likelihood of going back and retrofitting it is an impossibility," said Fixell, who is a member of the task force.


Among the most provocative proposals is Fixell's idea for a new Metro-North station built on undeveloped land south of the bridge along the Hudson River. Commuters would reach the station by descending from a drop-off point at the new bridge's toll plaza on the Westchester side.

To Fixell, the solution would benefit Rockland commuters by delivering them swiftly to a new Hudson line station rather than shuttling them through Tarrytown streets to the Metro-North station. Tarrytown residents would have a second and brand-new Metro-North station within walking distance of their homes.

"It seems like a real practical idea," Fixell said. "You hope that it won't be a knee-jerk instinctive reaction against it. It's difficult, but how difficult? How problematic?"

But, as Fixell conceded, there is one big hurdle -- an estimated cost of $250 million.

"It's a waste of taxpayer's money," said Marc Powers, 41, of Poughkeepsie, a commuter who uses the current Tarrytown train station.

Metro-North officials said they've studied the issue and dismissed it for a number of reasons. For one, it's just half a mile from a Tarrytown station that just went through a multimillion-dollar renovation.

And it would require a track reconfiguration, 10-story elevators and the acquisition of private property -- all of which would be expensive, said Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

In addition, there's a reason stations aren't closer together, Anders said.

"Commuter stations are spaced several miles apart because the acceleration and deceleration distances require it," she said.


Rockland residents have some of the biggest stakes in the outcome.

Rockland County's planning commissioner, Tom Vanderbeek, estimates that seven of 10 Rockland commuters drive alone or carpool into the city. Unlike Westchester County commuters, Rockland residents have no direct rail link into Manhattan. Instead, those who don't drive or take the car hop on a Metro-North train for a ride into New Jersey -- to Hoboken or Secaucus -- before transferring to a PATH train into New York City.

Others head over the Tappan Zee by way of the Tappan Zee Express bus to the Tarrytown station. But the rush-hour ride can be a slow crawl, according to Vanderbeek, also a task force member.

"Once exiting at Tarrytown, buses often get even more bogged down in local traffic on Broadway (Route 9) on the way to the rail station," Vanderbeek said. "This situation makes it extremely difficult to offer a reliable, on-time trip for those commuters making connections to Metro-North."

He has asked the task force to study the possibility of an exit ramp coming off the east side of the bridge and heading toward the Tarrytown station.

Down the line, Rockland officials would also like a bus-rapid transit system for the bridge corridor -- essentially creating a bus-only lane -- that could eventually be expanded to the Route 303, Route 9W and Route 59 corridors. The plan would include dedicated bus lanes with unimpeded access through the corridor and is favored by transportation advocates like the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.


Vanderbeek's Westchester County counterpart and fellow task force member, Burroughs, has argued that the cost of building a ramp into downtown Tarrytown or a new Metro-North station could be cost-prohibitive. So he has suggested having buses come off the bridge to Metro-North's White Plains station.

It's an idea that has its fair share of opponents.

Assemb. Amy Paulin, a Scarsdale Democrat who is also sitting on the task force, argued that the White Plains station, which runs along Metro-North's Harlem Line, already IS stretched to its limits.

"The Harlem Line is already overcrowded," Paulin said. "To put extra passengers on an already overcrowded system makes no sense."

And Paulin doesn't want to create more traffic problems along the I-287 corridor.

"I completely understand we have to do more to get people to commute on the trains," she said. "But what are we doing to alleviate congestion on 287?"

With Elizabeth Daza

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