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New York Post

 

Risky Bridge-Ness

February 29, 2012

By Nicole Gelinas

Cuomo’s Tappan Zee decisions

"I’m going to build Tappan Zee just to show we can," Gov. Cuomo told construction-company honchos last month. Deliberate speed is welcome — but if Cuomo doesn’t map out the full route now, the project could crash.

The governor has fast-tracked the long-stalled plans to replace the dangerously obsolete Tappan Zee Bridge between Westchester and Rockland. Two weeks ago, the state short-listed four big engineering groups who will bid soon to design and build the bridge. It should cost $4.64 billion and take five years.

This process sounds smooth and straight. This week, though, Cuomo will get an idea of the obstacles in the roadway. The state started holding public hearings (one each in Rockland and Westchester) last night.

The cliché is that it will be environmental issues like "fish mortality" that will push up costs and time. But fish or no fish, New York will build a bridge if it wants to. (It wasn’t the fabled striped bass, even, that killed the Westway underground highway project on Manhattan’s West Side in 1985, after a decade of planning — the pols just used the fish, in the end, as an excuse for backing down from a plan whose costs increasingly outweighed its benefits.)

No, it’s other issues that could really push up costs and delay ribbon-cutting. To avoid trouble later, Cuomo needs to genuinely resolve three issues up front: bus lanes, noise and ugliness.

Bus lanes: Drivers probably will see tolls double to pay for this thing; in exchange, they’d better get reduced congestion. But extra lanes will fill up with extra cars, as they always do; the only way to reduce traffic is mass transit.

Cuomo has said (rightly) that it’s too expensive to build Metro-North over the bridge, at least for now. But he can design the crossing with express bus lanes built in: Every bus can replace 50 cars; that’s good for drivers paying the higher toll.

The Rockland and Westchester county execs seem to get this. Both Rob Astorino and Scott Vanderhoef support building bus lanes now, because, as Vanderhoef says, "we’ve got to come out of this better than we go into it."

Adding a bus-lane requirement after the initial bids will add delays and costs. Cuomo needs to be firm and clear now.

Noise: The state admits that construction will be "intrusive and noisy" for folk who live and work nearby. Lots of work will happen at night, so that people could use the existing bridge and ramps during the day.

To "mitigate" this, the state will make contractors use insulation and other techniques to reduce the sound. But the state has a history of addressing noise problems on paper better than in real life. If Cuomo rushes without enough attention to noise, nobody will think about it seriously until voters are making noise — not unlike the limits on blasting now seen at the Second Avenue Subway dig.

Ugliness: Will the bridge be pretty enough? Sounds silly, but a similar issue forced a late change in the Big Dig job in Massachusetts — the state wound up shelling out an extra billion.

Already, tourist-attraction writer Nicholas Dagen Bloom and White Plains environmental consultant Adrian Berezowsky have complained that the Tappan Zee proposal "is not a bridge at all, but a 10-lane highway that happens to go over water."

Some of these things — like bus lanes — should happen. Some — like building the most beautiful bridge in the world — shouldn’t. Yet Cuomo has to anticipate and answer these questions now, before he awards contracts, and way before he green-lights construction.

Otherwise, he’ll have to fix the noise problems, for example, when he’s already committed to paying crews hundreds of thousands of dollars for work they can’t do because it’s too noisy.

Remember: Contractors only pay for their own mistakes (sometimes), not for when the state changes its mind about what kind of bridge it wants or how many nighttime hours it allows construction.

Cuomo should note now, too, that there are no excuses for what goes wrong later. From the Big Dig to the Second Avenue Subway to the World Trade Center site, issues like these have come up time and time again.

Punting on any of these questions now means going nowhere fast later — while the meter runs.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/risky_bridge_ness_zeT4z0e2kGzV64CYnVqMEP

 

 
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