Tuesday, March 6, 2012
It seemed quixotic at first, but maybe the idea of turning the Tappan Zee Bridge into a walkway after a new bridge is built is not so far fetched after all.
State officials said Wednesday that they were exploring the possibility of turning the three-mile-long bridge into a route for pedestrians and bicyclists along the lines of the High Line on the West Side of Manhattan, or the equally successful Walkway Over the Hudson linking Poughkeepsie and Highland.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and aides said at a cabinet meeting in Albany that it would cost $150 million to demolish the existing bridge, which carries the New York State Thruway, so turning it into a walkway connecting Rockland and Westchester Counties was worth exploring.
“Could you leave it up, and what are the economics and the practicalities of that?” Mr. Cuomo said at the meeting. “It’s an exciting option.”
After more than 10 years of study, building a new bridge finally seemed to reach critical mass last fall when it was one of 14 projects chosen by the Obama administration for expedited federal review and approval — possibly allowing work on a new $5 billion bridge to begin as early as spring 2013. The bridge is 56 years old — 6 years past its anticipated life span — and needs $50 million in maintenance and repairs annually.
After the project was announced, the idea of preserving the old bridge was raised by Paul Feiner, the Greenburgh town supervisor, who proposed a walkway. The idea immediately gained support from biking and pedestrian groups. In January, the newly formed Tappan Bridge Park Alliance said that a walkway “would generate economic and community development to the region by providing a world-class destination and a much needed open space in the congested Lower Hudson Valley.”
The initial reactions from public officials were cool, and some said the steep pitch of the Tappan Zee, compared, for example, with the flat Walkway Over the Hudson, could make a park plan impractical.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo and Thomas Madison, executive director of the State Thruway Authority, endorsed further study of the project. They indicated it might make more sense to create a walkway than to tear down the existing bridge.
“I’m so excited,” Mr. Feiner said Wednesday in an e-mail. “This could become a world-class destination point.”
Despite overall applause for the coming bridge replacement, there has also been criticism that the fast progress has come at the expense of the optimal project. Transit advocates are upset that the new bridge will not include rail lines or bus service.
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit group advocating for alternatives to motor-vehicle use, recently began running radio and newspaper advertisements that criticized the absence of mass transit in the current design. Hearings on the project’s environmental impact statement are scheduled for Feb. 28 in West Nyack and for March 1 in Tarrytown.
Mr. Madison and Mr. Cuomo said that the new bridge would provide areas for bikers and walkers, unlike the old one, and that it was being built to support mass transit, which can be added when more money is available.
“There has been criticism that we’ll build a bridge that doesn’t support rail,” the governor said. “That’s not true. The bridge will support the rail. The question is the rest of the system that doesn’t exist. We’re actually building a bridge that is ahead of the existing system.”