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Don't let transit derail the Tappan Zee Bridge

Workers continue early construction of pilings from barges

Workers continue early construction of pilings from barges just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge crossing from Westchester County to Rockland County, in the background. These pilings allowed proposers to conduct demonstrations of boring to ascertain the composition of the riverbed and a pile-driving project that will determine the load capacity of seven locations in the future path of the bridge.The pile-driving demonstration project was the first physical preparatory work for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. (March 13, 2012) Credit: Rory Glaeseman

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo today put on a sales pitch for a new Tappan Zee Bridge and, without naming them directly, took on detractors for contributing to a gridlock that could stall this project.

But anyone paying attention to this issue knows who Cuomo was referring to – the Republican county executives from Westchester, Rockland and Putnam, and some other groups, such as Riverkeeper, that have legitimate concerns.

One person’s gridlock is another person’s due-diligence.

“The question is, do you allow the opposition and controversy to defeat the project or not. If controversy always wins … we build nothing,” Cuomo said on Fred Dicker’s Live from the State Capitol radio program. “The question is can you overcome the opposition, the controversy, and get the work done.”

Though Cuomo acknowledged that any significant project, especially one with a $5.2 billion price tag, will generate questions and concerns, rebuilding the Tappan Zee is a no-brainer, he said.

That may be true, but the details – like paying for it, adding higher tolls and its potential impact on the environment and nearby communities – are still fuzzy. And that’s what has drawn the ire of many groups and area residents. These are legitimate concerns that must be addressed as this process unfolds.

Another big one is the addition of mass transit. Depending on who you talk to, that would double the cost of a new bridge. We’re not sure about that (few people are, except maybe the administration), but it’s worth a look. The bridge is being built transit-ready, the governor has stressed. It’s hard to see how adding at least some form of improved transit—perhaps an affordable express bus system, for instance—would derail the project.

Because so many questions remain unanswered, county executives from Westchester, Rockland and Putnam last week didn’t take a key New York Metropolitan Transportation Council vote on the project until after release of a final environmental impact statement.

Now that vote is set for September.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who has advocated better transit on a new span, called the decision to delay “just common sense.”

He rejects the notion that delaying the vote is a stalling tactic or some sort of political move. In a conversation today, he said he needs more information on the cost, design and potential increase in tolls.

And he’s right about the request being reasonable.

“We want to avoid the ‘Big Dig’ from Boston,” Astorino said, referring to a public works project in Massachusetts that was famously over-budget. “We just want to make sure the pertinent questions get answered.”

So they agree on a new bridge. And they agree on doing right. That’s all good.

But it sure does sound like this ride will have its share of tie-ups.