\Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Testimony of Kate Slevin, Executive Director
Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Westchester County Scoping Meeting
October 25, 2011

Good afternoon. I am Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional policy watchdog organization working for a more sustainable transportation network in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

I’m surprised to be here. Like many in this room, my organization has spent a decade participating in the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Environmental Impact Statement. In the mid 2000s, that process led to the conclusion that public transportation should be included in any plans to replace the bridge. The need for and potential benefits of public transportation in the I-287 corridor were widely documented and supported. 

Many potential alternatives for a new or rehabilitated bridge were narrowed to five, with all but the “do nothing” alternative including bus rapid transit or commuter rail. In 2008, state agencies indicated a preferred alternative would be a new bridge and bus rapid transit service from Suffern to Port Chester, and eventually, a rail line into Manhattan. My organization supported the decision. We were especially impressed with cross corridor bus rapid transit’s potential to get people out of their cars, reduce congestion, clean the air and provide an economic development backbone for the Hudson Valley.

But two weeks ago, Governor Cuomo threw this all out the window. With the help of President Obama and the Federal Highway Administration, he decided that he would replace the bridge and forego the public transportation. In doing so, Governor Cuomo ignored the findings in a decade of study and the public consensus that had developed in 280 meetings. The move is sure to erode people’s faith in government and elected officials. 

Today, we urge the Governor to take a step back and ensure that FHWA include public transportation – particularly cross corridor bus rapid transit- in all alternatives being studied in the Environmental Review. And we don’t mean design the bridge so transit can be accommodated at some later date, we mean build the bridge with bus rapid transit across the corridor now. If we don’t build transit now, it’s unlikely we ever will. We should learn from our mistakes. The George Washington Bridge was meant to eventually accommodate transit.

The scoping document is inadequate and must be modified. It states that funding was not available for the full project so public transportation was eliminated. It’s not clear how this decision was made or whether this presumption includes both bus rapid transit and rail. There is no clear funding source for any part of the project so new revenue will have to be generated no matter what. Why is part of the project affordable but other parts are not? Bus rapid transit was the cheapest of the components and it’s likely an improved design could further drive costs down. This must be included going forward.

The EIS should also look at using a lane on the new bridge for a high occupancy toll and bus lane and a “BRT-Light” option that maximizes uses of existing infrastructure. It should also look at time lost in congestion due to construction and waterfront and aesthetics impacts of building a bridge twice as wide as the current one. It should look at the benefits of public transportation for business on both sides of the river. It should look at the job creation benefits of public transportation since transit projects create more jobs than bridge construction alone.

Governor Cuomo’s legacy is at stake here. Last year, Governor Christie killed the ARC passenger rail tunnel which would have doubled rail service between NJ and Manhattan, increased property values in NJ, and generated thousands of jobs. He did so for political reasons. Christie’s legacy is forever scarred by that move, and commuters will be feeling the pain of his decision for generations to come. 

Governor Cuomo is facing a similar situation right now. Does Governor Cuomo want to be remembered as the person who killed transit across the Tappan Zee Bridge? For commuters stuck in traffic and the sustainability of our region, let’s hope not.