ALBANY-The New York State Thruway Authority has released three design proposals for the project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, the heavily trafficked three-mile span that connects New York City’s northern suburbs on either side of the Hudson River. A vote to select the winning bid is expected to take place at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the authority’s board of directors on Dec. 17; however, a selection committee has already given a non-binding recommendation of the least expensive of the proposals, which would cost about $3.1 billion to build.
The other two proposals range as high as $4.1 billion. Any of the three, however, would represents a savings on the Cuomo administration’s earlier estimates—at least $5 billion and as high as $6 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal—of the cost to replace the 57-year-old span between Tarrytown and Nyack, NY.
If a new Tappan Zee isn’t built, New York State could end up spending the same amount just to maintain and rehabilitate the existing bridge, according to the Thruway Authority. That the existing bridge may need to be supplanted has been on the radar screen since at least 1999, when then-Gov. George Pataki told a radio audience that replacing the Tappan Zee was “one of the options under consideration by the Thruway Authority because it is so old and does need such major repair.”
Built in the early 1950s and expected to last only 50 years—a lifespan that theoretically ended in 2005—the Tappan Zee now averages about 138,000 vehicles on a typical day and up to 170,000 on peak travel days. The typical daily traffic is about eight times the volume it supported in the ‘50s, while the peak volume is about 70% more than the 100,000 daily crossings it was designed to support.
Partly as a result, according to the Thruway Authority, the accident rate on the bridge is twice that of the New York Thruway’s 574-mile route between New York City and Buffalo. Further, the authority cites the lack of lanes or shoulders for emergency vehicles or disabled vehicles, “creating more traffic delays” on a span that already sees them occurring on a regular basis.
The $3.1-billion proposal would require about 5.25 years to build, about eight-and-a-half months less than either of its ore expensive counterparts. Each of the three proposals would carry eight lanes of traffic, add a rush-hour bus lane and provide wide shoulders as well as crossings for cyclists and pedestrians. There would also be an option to add a mass-transit link in the future.
Still up in the air is the question of funding the project. In August, GlobeSt.com reported that Gov. Andrew Cuomo formally requested federal funds in a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “There is no doubt that the bridge replacement is critical,” Cuomo wrote. “The Tappan Zee is outdated and unsafe with an accident rate twice that of any other portion of the New York State Thruway, and adds needless congestion for tens of thousands of commuters. It will be safe for drivers, faster for bus commuters and the project will create tens of thousands of new jobs.”