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New Tappan Zee project: Churches, activists ask, 'Where are the jobs?'

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:

An association of Westchester County churches, synagogues and other community groups is warning that the $3.9 billion replacement Tappan Zee Bridge project won't deliver as many jobs as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo initially promised.

"Work is beginning, and the question remains, where are the jobs?" asked Adam Barbanel-Fried, lead organizer for Westchester United.

Last week, the nonprofit issued a news release criticizing the project as New York State Thruway officials announced that preconstruction activities for the bridge were well under way. Test borings into the river bottom, an important step before pile driving can start, for example, were completed recently.

Westchester United commissioned a November 2012 study that found the Tappan Zee replacement would create no more than 5,000 jobs if work finished, as scheduled, in five years.

"The New New York Bridge is believed to be the largest public works project in the country," the release said. "Governor Cuomo originally projected to create over 45,000 jobs. Big promises, but in the details, the promise to the community is very small."

Westchester United includes the Greater Centennial AME Zion Church in Mount Vernon, the Upper Westchester Muslim Society in Thornwood, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua and 15 other faith-based and advocacy groups. It's affiliated with the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a group that has advocated for a variety of issues in New York City, from affordable housing to health care. The group's website claims they were instrumental in the creation of the Mott Haven Campus of schools in the South Bronx.

Cuomo officials pushed back at the group's assertions on jobs.

"The five-year construction of the New NY Bridge will create thousands of good-paying jobs and the team is committed to hiring as many local workers as possible," said Brian Conybeare, special adviser to the governor for the bridge. "The project is just getting under way and the bulk of the hiring will not ramp up until early 2014."

Local companies were receiving contracts for a variety of services linked to the bridge, said Conybeare. He's also met with riverside deli owners, restaurateurs and others who've seen business improve as workers have descended on the region.

Last month, Empire State Development and the New York Labor Department published a study using recent data that said the bridge would create 7,700 jobs. Most of those jobs would go to workers from the Hudson Valley region, according to the study.

The study said the 45,000 figure discussed by Cuomo last year referred to "job years," a term in economics that refers to individual positions that last for a total of one year.

The president of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Ross Pepe, also cast doubt on Westchester United's assertions.

"Thousands of local workers struggling to survive the recession are about to go back to work thanks to the new Tappan Zee Bridge," said Pepe in a statement. "This would not have happened without Governor Cuomo's leadership and dedication to rebuilding a vital piece of our infrastructure."

Barbanel-Fried also criticized the state's outreach efforts related to hiring for the bridge project. Cuomo's team has opened outreach centers and held numerous events to educate the public about jobs, including opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses.

Westchester United activists sought to take advantage of those outreach efforts to no avail, said Barbanel-Fried.

"They left messages on the hotline, and no message were returned," said Barbanel-Fried. "They went to the outreach offices. They weren't staffed. They didn't see opportunities to ask questions at the highly managed presentations."

Asked for a response, Cuomo officials sent Newsday a schedule of the hours for the outreach centers at 303 South Broadway Plaza, Tarrytown, and 142 Main St., Nyack.

The centers are open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. during weekdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

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