Tappan Zee Bridge

Transportation Nation

New York Wants $2 Billion From Feds for Tappan Zee Bridge

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Here's the loan application. We'll have more soon.


TIFIA LOI - Tappan Zee Bridge

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: White House Threatens Transpo Bill Veto, NY Seeks Tappan Zee Loan

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top stories on TN:
NY City Council Summons Police on Traffic Crime Investigations (Link)
Transpo Bills Set Off on A Long, Bumpy Road (Link)
NY MTA Chief Apologizes for Rat Comments (Link)
DOT Head Ray LaHood Takes Another Whack At House Transpo Bill: It “Takes Us Back to the Horse and Buggy Era” (Link)
Brooklyn Bike Lane Lawsuit Rolls into 2012 (Link)
New York Senate Votes to Restore a Tax Break for Transit Riders (Link)
USDOT: On Time Airline Arrival Highest in 17 Years (Link)
Regulators Soon To Release Reports On Yellowstone River Pipeline Break And Oil Spill (Link)

An aerial view of the George Washington Bridge (photo courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

New York has asked the federal government for a $2 billion loan to help finance the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement. (Bloomberg)

The White House is threatening to veto the House transportation bill. (Politico, The Hill)

And now transportation sits firmly atop the political agenda. (AP via Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

The Port Authority will spend half a billion dollars to renovate the George Washington Bridge. (

Nine New York city cyclist deaths that raise questions. (MetroFocus)

A New York law cracking down on distracted driving has generated nearly 119,000 tickets statewide to motorists using their cell phones or texting while driving since July. (New York Daily News)

The green paint used in Los Angeles' bike lanes is not digitally erasable -- causing some film crews to have to relocate to bike lane-free streets. (Los Angeles Times)

Chicago's transit agency wants customers to know that its survey about "hypothetical fare scenarios" doesn't mean that it's hiking fares. (Chicago Tribune)

A group of bus companies is suing New York after the city's Department of Transportation gave Megabus a free spot outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal. (DNA Info)

Australia pours money into its car industry while slapping huge tariffs on used cars...but some are arguing for the New Zealand model, where second-hand cars are much cheaper.  (The Global Mail)

DC's Capital Bikeshare has hit 1.5 million trips -- in less than a year and a half of operation. (TBD)

New York is phasing in new benches in its subway system. Goodbye, wood; hello stainless! (New York Daily News)


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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Fuel Economy Up, Bipartisan Hatred of House Transpo Bill, and NY MTA Head: No Subway Food Ban

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top stories on TN:
LaHood Heaps More Criticism on “Lousy” House Transpo Bill (Link)
President’s Budget: High Speed Rail, Fixing Roads & Bridges, Complete Streets, TIGER Grants (Link)
Biodiesel Producers Push to Raise Federal Production Limits (Link)
Two More Ex-Governors Say Port Authority Has Long History of Problems (Link)

(photo by Ed Yourdon via Flickr)

The current head of the MTA won't support a ban on eating in the subway. (New York Times)

Meanwhile, Lee Sander -- a former MTA head -- grilled Eric Cantor about the House transportation bill. (Capital New York)

The fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the U.S. last month hit a record high. (Detroit Free Press)

Chicago politicians discover bipartisanship when it comes to opposing the House transportation bill. “When we look at transportation infrastructure, this is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It’s an American issue,’’ said one Republican. (Chicago Tribune)

New York State says it erred when it invited community members to a briefing about the Tappan Zee Bridge; transit advocates say disinviting them is par for the course. "All the decisions have already been made behind closed doors," said one. (The Times Herald Record)

Color wars: officials in Minneapolis-St. Paul can't agree on the color scheme for its new bus rapid transit system. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

NJ Transit has released its latest customer satisfaction survey, and the results remain consistent: riders feel that the level of service is just barely acceptable. (Times of Trenton)

And Happy Valentine's Day, TN readers! Two links of love:
Why are so many romantic comedies set in cities? "Love can happen anywhere, anytime...(but) the odds are much higher in nature or in a walkable city neighborhood (or both at the same time!) than in sprawl, or while driving in traffic." (Atlantic Cities)
And a special treat for New Yorkers: did your eyes lock -- just as the C train was pulling out of the station? Did a tall, handsome stranger help you navigate the weekend subway work? Find your 'Missed Connection' tonight at the New York Transit Museum.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill, Tappan Zee, and Cracked Metro Rails

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Top stories on TN:
US Chamber of Commerce: House transit cuts could pass (link)
Crossing Delancey Street will soon get safer (link)
LaHood says high-speed rail in California is all about jobs (link)
FTA head Peter Rogoff joins list of officials who hate the transportation bill (link)
Photo: the ugliest rat (link)

DC Metro Station (photo by Jill Robidoux)

TN's Andrea Bernstein talks about the House's transit cuts on this morning's Brian Lehrer Show. (WNYC)

A New York Times editorial provides a "brief and by no means exhaustive list of the (transportation) bill's many defects"; calls it "uniquely terrible." (New York Times)

And: NYT critic: move Madison Square Garden to far west side to fix Penn Station. (New York Times)

A TSA program that pre-clears passengers --and lets them keep their shoes on while being screened by airport security -- is being expanded to more airports. (Star-Ledger, The Hill)

California labor groups are running ads that hammer home U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood's message that high-speed rail=jobs. (Sacramento Bee)

Pennsylvania's governor didn't budget for transportation because its problems are too overwhelming. "This is not a budget item. It is too large for that. Transportation must be confronted as its own distinct and separate topic." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

A German carpooling website plans to enter the U.S. market. “We think all trips by car could be shared,” says the founder. “Whenever you want to go with your car, you could take people with you, and therefore reduce carbon emissions and your costs.” Everybody say Mitfahrgelegenheit! (The World)

The four consortiums picked to bid on New York's Tappan Zee Bridge rebuild include some of the world's most successful construction companies -- and some with histories of delays and millions of dollars in cost overruns. (Journal News)

Why is there an uptick of cracked rails on the DC Metro? (Washington Post)

A pair of lawmakers from New York and New Jersey are pushing legislation to roll back last summer's Port Authority toll and fare hikes. (Star-Ledger)

Manhattan's Hudson Square neighborhood sees bike boom, installs more racks. (DNA Info)

Megabus is moving its Manhattan pickup site -- and doesn't have to pay rent. (DNA Info)

A map that replaces London Underground station names with anagrams is getting second life. You can get from Arcadian Noodle to Satan Dew, and you don't even have to transfer at Mind Eel!

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Florida Bullet Train Would Have Been Profitable, Cheap Natural Gas Boosts US Energy Independence, Historic Wright Bros. Shop May Be Demolishe

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Top stories on TN: the Senate will move its highway bill Thursday. An audit of the Port Authority called it a "challenged and dysfunctional organization" and found cost overruns at the World Trade Center. Houston is a leading purchaser of green energy. Gas prices are creeping higher -- especially in D.C. And: listen to what happens when a subway platform becomes a musical instrument.


(courtesy of NASA)

The high-speed rail project that Florida's governor killed last February would have made an annual surplus of $31 million to $45 million within a decade of operation, according to a state report. (TBO)

The boom in shale oil and natural gas is moving the U.S. closer to energy independence -- but cheap natural gas means less incentive to invest in cleaner energy. (Marketplace)

New York City will unveil a pedestrian safety plan for Delancey Street, nearly a month after a 12-year-old was killed while crossing the busy intersection at the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge. (DNA Info)

Toronto's city council is preparing to kill the mayor's transit plan. (Toronto Sun)

Four consortiums of engineering and construction companies have been found qualified to bid on the $5 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Times Herald-Record)

An Ohio building constructed around the first Wright brothers' bicycle shop has been declared a public nuisance and may eventually be demolished. (AP via ABC)

Meanwhile: Newt Gingrich, campaigning in Ohio, says the Wright brothers rose from bicycle mechanics to world renowned inventors – without the assistance of government funding. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood is blogging enthusiastically about Denver's light rail expansion. (FastLane)

Some DC Metro bus signs are telling passengers to "alight" instead of "exit." (Washington Post)

Just what is Detroit? A city, an industry, or an idea? (Forbes)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill a "Legislative Train Wreck," California Restores School Bus Funds, NJ Pols Want To Rein In Port Authority

Friday, February 03, 2012

Top stories on TN: New York's MTA announced the winners of its app contest. The MTA and the transit workers union formally resumed contract talks -- but not without some controversy. Efforts to preserve the surface transportation bill's  dedicated bike/pedestrian funding failed yesterday. U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood hates the bill. Senator Harry Reid says next week will be a big one for transportation. And: an expert in infrastructure financing has been tapped to head the California High Speed Rail Authority.

(photo by Patricia Towne via flickr)

Yesterday's markup of the five year, $260 billion surface transportation bill lasted 18 hours. Congresswoman Corrine Brown: "This has been the worst day of my life...This is the worst bill I have ever seen." (Politico)'

And: the bill's truck weight increase was killed. (The Hill)

Los Angeles Times on transpo bill: It's a "legislative train wreck."

And: the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled today to debate and vote on ending the 30-year policy of devoting 2.86 cents of the 18.4- cent gasoline tax paid by U.S. motorists to public transportation. "The money would instead go toward keeping a U.S. account for road and bridge construction solvent." (Bloomberg)

Meanwhile, after four years of wrangling and one shutdown, the FAA will soon get a bill of its own (NPR). Tweet from  the AP's Joan Lowy: "What will aviation lobbyists do now?"

In other news...when will New York State release the names of the bidders for the Tappan Zee Bridge project? (Wall Street Journal)

NJ lawmakers -- still fuming over last year's toll hike -- released four bills from committee intended to rein in and open up the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. (Star-Ledger)

California's legislature restored $248 million for school bus transportation that was particularly crucial for small and rural school districts. (Los Angeles Times)

Madison's buses set a ridership record in 2011. (Wisconsin State Journal)

Is there a NYC ticket blitz? (NY Times)

Carjackings in Newark rose for the third straight year in 2011. (Star-Ledger)

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Transportation Nation

New York State: No Reason Not To Replace Tappan Zee Bridge

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River and connects Rockland and Westchester Counties (photo by Patsy Wooters via Flickr)

UPDATED WITH NYS DOT COMMISSIONER JOAN MCDONALD'S COMMENTS: New York State says there are no serious environmental challenges facing its planned replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), which was posted on the state's Tappan Zee website Tuesday, signaled no major changes in the state's approach to replacing the aging span. It states the bridge should be replaced -- and transit won't be immediately included.

"The Replacement Bridge Alternative would not preclude future bus rapid transit (BRT) or commuter rail service at the Tappan Zee Hudson River crossing," says one paragraph of the DEIS (see page 20, here), "but such a proposal would be subject to a separate environmental review and approval process at the time that it is foreseeable and financing is available...Therefore, the Replacement Bridge Alternative would not adversely impact transit services."

Speaking by phone, Joan McDonald -- the New York State Transportation Commissioner -- said that the state's position hasn't changed.

"That is what we have said all along...Our position has always been you cannot build transit until you replace the bridge," she said. "We don’t think it is financially feasible at this time for transit to be included, but we are building a bridge that will last for 100+ years, so at some point in the future, if the ridership numbers, and the fare box recovery ratio warrant the investment, we will make sure that it happens. So we are building the bridge to not preclude it in the future. And what that means is the footings will be spread appropriately and there will be enough weight-bearing capability on the bridge to hold transit in the future."

When asked if there was anything anyone could say at the upcoming hearings that would change the state's position, McDonald answered “most likely no, but we will see what comes out of the public comment process.”

The DEIS is part of the regulatory process the state must follow in order to replace the bridge. It must address concerns made during the public comment period -- including at a pair of hearings held in October.

A quick scan of the DEIS revealed no major surprises. Under a heading entitled "unavoidable impacts" (p. 26, here), the DEIS states several properties would need to be purchased, the views of some Rockland County residences may be obstructed, and the oyster bed habitat in the Hudson River will likely be disturbed during construction. The state would also need to use a small portion of the Elizabeth Place Park in South Nyack for construction purposes. McDonald said that the state has paying close attention to the possible construction impacts on the river. "That is probably the area of most significance," she said, "that we don’t disrupt [the Hudson River] habitat."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has made rebuilding the bridge one of his key issues. He toured the bridge before he formally took office, and in October of last year he announced the Obama Administration had granted the project expedited approval. Most recently, he mentioned it in his State of the State address this month.

In a press release today (pdf), the state DOT lined up a number of state officials and and labor leaders, praising Governor Cuomo's leadership.

Advocates haven't yet given up hope for bus rapid transit. Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, says the DEIS doesn't adequately address why BRT isn't being included, and that her preliminary review of the massive DEIS documents had raised a number of other issues, including an "explanation of how this project fits into goals in legislation recently passed by the state to implement projects that are consistent with smart growth principles." Her group has put together a website calling for BRT on the bridge.

Cuomo has not yet announced how he plans to pay for the bridge's construction, estimated at over $5 billion, but he has said he intends to use a proposed infrastructure bank to finance it. In December, the state hired new financial advisers for the project.

The state has scheduled two public hearings about the DEIS -- Tuesday, February 28th in Nyack, and Thursday, March 1 in Tarrytown. Comments on the DEIS will be accepted until March 15 -- after which point the state will move forward on crafting a final environmental impact statement for review by the federal government.

"It’s an exceptionally exciting project," McDonald said. "It is a necessary component of our transportation network, and it will create many jobs during construction, and it’s critical for the economic vitality of the New York metropolitan region and the lower Hudson Valley."

The state has set a goal of breaking ground on the new Tappan Zee Bridge later this summer or early in the fall.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Beijing Bike Scheme, Florida Traffic Deaths Drop, Airlines Sue DOT Over Advertising Rules

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Trying Out Staten Island's Bus Time (Link)
Montana To Parents, Kids: We Know It’s Winter — But You Can Still Walk & Bike To School (Link)
As Presidential Race Moves to South Carolina, Pothole Ads Do, Too (Link)
Amtrak: In 2012, We Want eTickets, Electric Locomotives, and Speedier Trains (Link)

Bicyclists in Beijing (photo by Superflow via Flickr)

Beijing will put 20,000 rental bikes on the street this year to ease congestion -- and open four new subway lines. (Xinhua)

Parts of Nigeria are under a curfew after protests against the ending of fuel subsidies grew violent. "Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled...The costs of food and transportation also doubled."  (NPR)

Adding mass transit to the Tappan Zee Bridge would delay the project at least two years, says the head of the New York State DOT. (Journal News)

New MTA head Joe Lhota says he'll continue to pursue a smartcard system for NYC transit. (New York Times)

Traffic deaths in Florida dropped to a 33-year low in 2011, although the state's population doubled in that span. (AP via Miami Herald)

Some airlines are suing the DOT over its requirement that advertisements include all taxes and fees in ticket prices for flights. (The Hill)

Sales of diesel-powered cars in the U.S. rose  27.4 percent in 2011 while hybrid sales dropped 2.2 percent. (AutoBlogGreen)

Capital Bikeshare has posted data files with individual (but anonymous) trip data. (Greater Greater Washington)

DC's Metro would have to condemn many more properties than originally thought in order to build the Purple Line. (Washington Post)

Volkswagen unveils the E-Bugster -- an electric Beetle concept car -- in Detroit. (Gizmag)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: One-Way Streets Losing Favor, Nigerian Unions Launch Strike Over Fuel Costs, Taking Parking Lots Seriously

Monday, January 09, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Exploring Grand Central’s Secrets, With the Author of Hugo Cabret (Link)
California Budget Supports Bullet Train, Would Create New Transportation Agency (Link)
Houston Starts Small As It Tries Out First-Ever Bike Share (Link)

A Christian Lacroix-designed tram in Montpellier, France (photo courtesy of Montpellier Agglomération Officiel)

Transit advocates are expressing doubt over the capacity to run an express subway train from midtown Manhattan to a proposed new convention center in Queens. (WNYC)

Montpellier, France, is installing "what may be Europe’s sexiest tram system." (New York Times)

Nigerian unions have launched a nationwide strike over soaring fuel costs. (BBC)

Taking parking lots seriously as public spaces: "Lots don’t need to be dead zones." (New York Times)

One-way streets are in the crosshairs of some city planners. (National Post)

The Detroit Auto Show is happening this week. (Detroit Free Press; coverage)

Legislation being drawn up in Atlanta could play a key role in determining the fate of the state's $6.14 billion transportation referendum scheduled for this summer. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

To market more cars to Americans, Volkswagen is getting less German. (NPR)

Los Angeles Times pro-high-speed rail editorial: "The point is, you can take the long view or the short view toward the bullet train. The expert panels are taking a short view; we prefer the long."

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey wants to start construction of a new Central Terminal Building at La Guardia Airport in 2014. (Wall Street Journal)

Police are ticketing passengers for subway infractions like propping up feet on a seat, blocking the doors, or taking up more than one seat. (New York Times)

Transit advocates haven't given up hope yet for a bus lane over the new Tappan Zee Bridge. (Journal News)

"Let's do a bicycle ride!" Ron Paul wants to prove he's healthy enough to be president. (Politico)

Before the "L," Chicago ran on cable cars. (WBEZ)

Reminder: New York City's first-ever subway line work shutdown begins tonight. (TN)


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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transit Fare Affects School Attendance in Chicago, Singapore's Subway Snarl

Friday, December 16, 2011

Top stories on TN:

More Congressional outrage for high-speed rail. (Link)
Chicago bike share, VA toll road big TIGER III winners. (Link)
Taxi advocates plead their case to New York's governor. (Link)

Singapore's subway (photo by DDay209 via Flickr)

Chicago school officials say the cost of transit fare can discourage school attendance. (WBEZ)

Two legislators from New York and New Jersey -- steaming over recent toll hikes -- have introduced a bill that would put the Port Authority under federal oversight. (Staten Island Advance)

Cuomo's approach to the outer borough taxi bill is "the legislative equivalent of the slow-food movement." (New York Times)

The new Tappan Zee Bridge must have bus rapid transit or be obsolete from day one, says a coalition of elected officials and local groups. (Journal News)

Singapore's subway system suffered a major breakdown yesterday when four trains stalled during rush hour, trapping thousands of passengers and affecting some 127,000. (Wall Street Journal)

The number of bicyclists in and around Minneapolis has soared in the past year. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Has crime really fallen on DC's Metro? Yes...and no. (TBD)

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Transportation Nation

NY & NJ Port Authority Chief Expects Transpo Building Push Once World Trade Center Is Done

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Patrick Foye, head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (image courtesy of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office)

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s new executive director said he’s been thinking about the “peace dividend” he expects once 1 World Trade Center is completed in 2013 – when the authority will be able to turn its energies toward “tens of billions” in overdue transportation infrastructure overhauls.

Pat Foye delivered the keynote speech for a conference about globalization and the New York State economy. The event was held in Manhattan at the SUNY Levin Institute, which is named after Neil Levin, the former Port Authority chief executive who died at the World Trade Center on September 11.

Anticipating a building push, Foye criticized the environmental review process that big building projects must pass through in the New York City region. “There’s no field of human endeavor that benefits from a 10-year study," he said. “We can do this quicker and cheaper and have greater certainty in the process.”

Foye sat down for a Q & A after speaking at the conference.

What did you mean by the “World Trade Center peace dividend?”

1 World Trade Center is 50 percent leased, which is terrific. The building is on track to be finished at the end of 2013. It’ll be open to tenants in the first quarter of 2014. The Port Authority has commitments it made to the World Trade Center site and to Downtown Manhattan in general. Once those commitments have been met, the Port Authority will be able to take funds and increasingly focus them on airports and ports and the PATH train and bridges and tunnels—the George Washington Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel, the Staten Island bridges—all the incredibly important infrastructure that help drive the economy of the region.

We’ll be refocusing on the Port Authority’s core mission, which is critical transportation infrastructure that serves both states. That’s what the future looks like.

Your predecessor, Chris Ward, said the recent toll and fare hikes were not enough to do what the Port Authority needs to do while finishing the World Trade Center. Are you facing hard choices about delaying or canceling critical infrastructure projects?

Life’s about hard choices, whether you’re sitting at your kitchen table with your spouse or whether you’re in business or a big governmental entity like the MTA or the Port Authority.

I’m probably the wrong guy to ask because I’m an MTA board member and, a year ago, I voted against the MTA fare increase because I thought voting against it was the right thing to do.

But I think the toll increase was the right thing to do for the Port Authority at the time. I personally would not be advocating—and I’m not advocating—for higher toll levels now. I think that given the economy, that would not be an appropriate thing to do. And I know it’s not something that either Governor Christie or Governor Cuomo would support. It’s something the Board of Commissioners would not support.

So I think the toll and fare increase, which was a painful decision made in August, was at the right level.

How would you streamline the environmental review process for large building projects? Would you have less reviews, tighter deadlines?

Look, everybody is committed to environmental protection. I’ve got three daughters. I care a lot about the water I drink, my wife drinks, my neighbors drink. I feel the same way about the air we breathe and chemicals in the soil. That’s a given.

The question is, with unmet transportation needs in the hundreds of billions and unemployment as high as it is, isn’t there a way to shorten the process without compromising the environment?

I believe there is. I think President Obama, a president with a terrific environmental record, led the way on the Tappan Zee Bridge when he gave Governor Cuomo a waiver of the NEPA process. It’s one of only 14 projects in the country to get that waiver.

[NOTE: The Tappan Zee Bridge connects New York’s Rockland and Westchester Counties, accommodates 135,000 vehicles each weekday and is in constant need of repairs. An expedited federal review is supposed to speed construction of a replacement bridge by coordinating the permitting process.]

How does the state’s new infrastructure bank work and how will it affect the Port Authority?

The state and region’s transportation infrastructure needs can be measured in hundreds of billions of dollars. State and government budgets everywhere are under pressure. Taxpayers have reached the limit of their ability to give more.

The infrastructure bank is designed to come up with menu of projects: the Tappan Zee Bridge, perhaps the Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia Airport, which is a Port Authority asset, perhaps the MTA’s East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway projects.

The bank would then combine the state and Port Authority together with sources of private capital: public unions, private pension plans, corporate pension plans, institutional investors. The state would not pay a fee but would co-invest, if you will.

Why is it needed?

We have an economic crisis. And I think people have generally have lost some confidence in the ability of Washington to address these concerns. We need to do something and we need to do it now.

The state has the projects and the expertise but doesn’t have the ability to borrow at those levels.

The governor has been very public about the importance of fixing the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is an incredibly important asset for the entire region. The state infrastructure fund will be looking at the Tappan Zee as among the first projects that it considers.

Is it like bonds in that investors can expect a set rate of return?

The infrastructure fund will afford investors the opportunity to invest in debt, perhaps subordinated debt, preferred equity, common equity or a common equity equivalent.

Every project is different. It’s got its own history, its own needs from a financing point of view. One of the advantages of the Tappan Zee Bridge, for instance, is it has a whole history of toll collection, and that can be plotted. That gives comfort and assurance to investors.

Projects with toll or fare revenue, that will help the financing get done.

(Some of the answers in this interview have been condensed.)

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Transportation Nation

Cuomo: Private Pension Funds Could Invest in Tappan Zee Bridge

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by Joseph A. via Flickr)

Today New York Governor Andrew Cuomo provided a little more insight into his plans for financing the $5.2 billion replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, saying that private union pension funds were interested in investing in the project.

Last month the governor announced that the state would replace, not continue to repair, the aging bridge. No funding plan has been settled upon, but last week reports surfaced that the governor was looking at using pension funds to partially finance the construction. The Wall Street Journal's editorial board accused him of raiding pension funds (subscription required) to pay for the bridge; Cuomo countered by saying he never stated the state would use its own pension funds for the project, but that because it was such a huge project he had to look at alternative financing plans.

Wednesday morning he appeared on Fred Dicker's show Live from the State Capitol. While most of the lengthy conversation was devoted to the state's looming $3.5 billion budget deficit and the prospect of a tax hike, the governor spent about 10 minutes talking about the Tappan Zee's replacement.

A partial transcript follows. You can listen to the audio below.

The conversation opened with Fred Dicker asking about arguments in recent days saying the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement might not be a good investment vehicle for pension funds.

Cuomo: I get that critic’s argument. Government should do nothing. Government is the problem. The less government does the better. Starve the beast, we don’t need government.” (Fred interjected; the governor continued.)

Cuomo: There’s no doubt that you’d only go to an alternative financing vehicle if you didn’t have a better financing vehicle, and if the state could do it with low-cost tax exempt bonds and that was the most cost-efficient way to do it, you’d do it. If you didn’t have the ability, because you were at your debt ceiling, you’d either let the bridge fall down, or you’d find another way to do it. I guess some people could say ‘let the bridge fall, and we’ll get in boats and we’ll row across the river.’ We’re exploring – again, you know, all of these conversations, if you have an exploratory conversation then somebody says ‘well, you’re considering’ – we’re exploring using union --  private union pension funds as a financing vehicle. Meaning what? Meaning labor unions finance projects all across this country. And labor unions, especially in the construction trades, could have a self-interest in seeing large-scale construction projects – good for the state, but also employs members of their union. So if they’re investing their pension funds, might they be interested in investing in a project in their state that creates jobs? And the answer is yes. Well, they’d have to get a market rate, true, they have fiduciaries, they have trustees, federal regulations, it would have to be a market rate. I understand that. Is that market rate the best rate you could get? Well, if it’s not, then you wouldn’t use it. But if it’s a competitive rate then you could increase the capacity of the state because you wouldn’t have just the state’s checkbook on the table, Fred, you’d have the state’s debt ceiling, and you’d have pension funds that could invest their own funds, which could give you added capacity.

(Fred Dicker asked him about whether it makes more sense to repair the bridge for a few more years and table a replacement plan.)

Cuomo: I think on the numbers, Fred, they’d say to you you should have replaced it years ago. That the cost of maintenance far outpaces the replacement cost. And look, in truth, they have been talking about replacing this for years. Governor Pataki announced that it was his intent. It’s partially finding the financing. And it’s partially, Fred, just the lack of initiative and ability to execute by state government. Talk about metaphors! When was the last time we built a bridge that didn’t frankly collapse and then we had to rebuild it because it collapsed?

(Fred Dicker mentions the Lake Champlain Bridge, which just opened; later in the conversation he also brings up the Willis Avenue Bridge, which was also replaced this year)

Cuomo: Yes, but it was an emergency. The emergency expedited the process. But in some ways we’ve gotten so bogged down with process that we’re suffocating in our own process. And a little bit we’ve lost our appetite to even try. And well it’s so difficult and this and the environmental this and they’re going to sue us this and the community opposition this. And I think that becomes – we talk about the lack of confidence becomes a problem in and of itself, that lack of initiative, that sense of paralysis becomes a problem in and of itself.

(Fred Dicker: couldn’t it be done statutorily lifting the debt ceiling, funding, bonding out the building of the TZ bridge?)

Cuomo: Yes, but then all of the names you mentioned would go on your show and say ‘can you believe it! They’re raising the debt ceiling!' These are tax and spend... (cross talk). Raising the debt ceiling is a legitimate issue a legitimate discussion. The debt ceiling is a ceiling for a reason. I think using alternative financing is better than raising the state’s debt ceiling...we have to remember that sense of courage and vision and capacity and can-do spirits. We’ve gotten so good at saying why we can’t do it, we’ve gotten so good at the negative.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: American Airlines Files for Bankruptcy, Pittsburgh's Transit System Faces a 35% Cut, DC's Metro Considers a "Tourist Zone"

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Building the Second Avenue Subway: the sandhog tradition stays in the family. (Link)

Choose your own rail adventure -- via computer games. (Link)

Audio tour: the worst road in California's wine country. (Link)

(photo by caribb via flickr)

American Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection. (Bloomberg, New York Times, Marketplace)

DC's Metro is considering a 'tourist zone' to make buying fare cards easier for non-residents. (Greater Greater Washington)

Pittsburgh's public transit system may be facing a 35% service cut if elected leaders don't resolve a state transportation budget shortfall. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Following two separate battery fires, GM is reassuring Volt owners that the car is safe. (Detroit Free Press)

Troy's new mayor wants to send back $8.5 million in federal aid to build a transit center. (Detroit Free Press)

The Wall Street Journal doesn't like Governor Cuomo's plan to use pension funds to repair infrastructure. "As an "investment opportunity," the Tappan Zee isn't Google." (Wall Street Journal)

But: the governor now says he won't use pension funds as an investment vehicle to fund the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Wall Street Journal)

Researchers found a link between Houston's buses and tuberculosis. (Atlantic Cities)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed: a unified transit system will lift the Metro Atlanta region. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

One former resident's account: I lived in Los Angeles for eight years without a car -- and you can, too. (The Source)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Blasting on Second Avenue Subway Temporarily Halted, Ford and GM Resume Rivalry, More on Tappan Zee Funding Plans

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Watch a video short about a desk toy who uses Google Street View to take a virtual road trip. (Link)

Houston's red light camera squabble has yet to be resolved. (Link)

Drag racers and drug smugglers drive Houston's car thefts. (Link)

Welding work on the 2nd Avenue Subway (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Blasting on the Second Avenue Subway project was temporarily halted after complaints about smoke and dust from nearby residents. (New York Times, New York Daily News)

More on paying for the Tappan Zee Bridge project: Governor Cuomo is looking for alternative financing (Bloomberg) -- but says talk of leveraging pension funds for infrastructure is "premature." (Poughkeepsie Journal)

Two California representatives want federal help with a struggling airport. (Los Angeles Times)

NPR finishes up its series on fuel economy with a look at making gasoline-powered engines more efficient. (NPR)

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey received a negative credit rating outlook. (The Record)

Florida's rejected high-speed rail funding is now California's gain. (Politico)

Ford and GM have a bitter rivalry that sometimes devolves into name calling. (Wall Street Journal)

If you see a NYPD officer rappelling down the Roosevelt Island Tram, don't be alarmed -- it's only an exercise. (NY1)

And: a map of every U.S. road accident victim between 2001 - 2009 (Guardian)

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Why Transit Was Dropped From the Tappan Zee Bridge Plan

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


For nearly a decade, planners and local officials in Westchester and Rockland Counties thought new plans for a Tappan Zee Bridge would include rail or bus rapid transit. But when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans for a new bridge last month, transit on the bridge had disappeared, leaving local elected officials and transit backers irate. When did the governor decide to take transit out of the plans?

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

When -- and Where -- Did Transit Over The Tappan Zee Bridge Go?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Governor Cuomo at the Tappan Zee Bridge on November 15, 2010 (photo by Richard Yeh/WNYC)

Soon after Andrew Cuomo won the governor’s seat last year, he visited the Tappan Zee Bridge. Built in the 1950s, the structure was considered at the end of its useful life. With the rusting three-mile span as a backdrop, the then-governor-elect mused about its future.

"Could you actually improve transportation in the region with a replacement bridge that could include rail, for example," he said. "The flip side is the cost of a new bridge, the planning, the delay, so those are issues that are going to have to be weighed.”

That was about a year ago. Let’s go back to a little further, to 2002. Faced with an aging money pit of a bridge, the state began formally studying its alternatives. It put a project team in place, which included Metro-North and the Federal Transit Administration. The project had a website, and office space in Tarrytown. And in 2008, the state announced it would be more cost-effective to replace the bridge, not repair it.

The then-DOT commissioner Astrid Glynn told WNYC that the new bridge would include bus rapid transit. Because, she said, "if the bridge does not include a significant transit option, it is going to be very difficult for those areas to have growth that is centered around transit, as opposed to simply auto-dependent."

And when the state presented several alternatives, all of them included some form of transit. In 2009, the state issued a cost evaluation that said bus rapid transit could add up to $2 billion in costs.

The underside of the Tappan Zee Bridge (photo courtesy of Jessica Proud/Westchester County Executive's Office)

In November 2010, Governor Cuomo was elected. And things began changing. The first Tappan Zee meeting to appear on his public schedule, which was in May, did not include someone from Metro-North or the MTA. A few months later, the lease ran out on the project’s office space and wasn’t renewed. But it wasn’t until Columbus Day, according to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, that he learned the extent of the changes -- from a press release.  He says: "We couldn’t get any information from anybody – from the state or the federal government, and all of a sudden we see that the new design would not entail bus rapid transit or mass transit."

Meanwhile, the project’s website was altered to reflect the new, transit-free bridge designs--removing eight years of studies and reports. After public outcry, the data from the old website was restored. But what wasn’t restored were plans for bus rapid transit. Rob Astorino, who's a Republican, calls that decision pennywise and pound foolish. "I’m the cheapest guy around in government," he said."We’re cutting costs left and right. But if you’re going to spend money, spend it efficiently. And right now you’re going to replace this outdated bridge with another outdated bridge the day you cut the ribbon."

Kate Slevin is the head of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transit advocacy group. She’s been watching the Tappan Zee project for years, and she says Cuomo’s decision flies in the face of almost a decade of study. "If they don’t do transit now," she says, "I don’t know that it will ever get done."

But Joan McDonald, the current state DOT commissioner, says transit hasn’t disappeared from plans. "I think it’s very important to clarify that," she says. "We’re speeding up construction of the bridge, we’re not slowing down transit. The proposed project that’s on the table now will be built to not preclude transit in the future, when it is financially feasible.”

That view didn’t placate some locals, like Betty Meisler. She’s a Valley Cottage resident who attended a public meeting in Nyack last month. She was hoping to see mass transit on the bridge. And when her expectations weren’t met, she wasn’t happy. "I don’t know what they’re accomplishing by doing this, other than putting in a new bridge to replace the existing one," she says. "They’re not changing anything for the commuters."

But Governor Cuomo’s office says a new bridge is a big change, and this version will cost five point two billion dollars, far less than any option with transit. A spokesman says that what the state needs most is a new bridge – now, and the construction jobs it will bring. That’s why the Governor called the White House to get special approval to speed up construction.

A statement from his office reads: “Governor Cuomo has ended over ten years of gridlock around the Tappan Zee project and expedited the process of rebuilding the bridge.   After reviewing various options during the summer, the Governor obtained Federal commitment to expedite construction of a new Tappan Zee bridge in a fiscally responsible manner so that new jobs could be created within a year while preserving all the options for mass transit.”

His office says work on the bridge’s replacement could begin as early as next summer.

You can listen to the radio version of this story below.

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Comments [3]

Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Compromise Spending Bill Shaping Up, A Look at New York's Future Bike Share, and London's "Tour du Danger"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top stories on TN:

In the city that never sleeps, the subway will. (Link)

The structural integrity of California's Bay Bridge is in question. (Link)

Faster buses come to 34th Street -- but BRT, it ain't. (Link)

NY's new MTA chief sends warm signals to the transit workers union. (Link)

A demonstration bike share station in NYC (photo by Kate Hinds)

A compromise spending bill that funds the DOT through fiscal 2012 -- and preserves Amtrak -- is shaping up on the Hill. (Politico)

NPR profiles Alta, the company that won NYC's bike share contract, and says the city is poised to become a bike share Mecca.

A new electric truck assembly plant is moving into the Bronx. (Crain's New York)

Montreal's bike share program shuts down for the season today. (CBC)

There's a rise in the number of pedestrian deaths on Missouri roads. (KSPR)

The European financial crisis is affecting the rental car industry. (Marketplace)

Do New York's alternate side parking regulations bring peace and celebrate diversity? (New York Times)

New York State is hiring a financial consultant to figure out how to come up $5.2 billion to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Times Herald-Record)

NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was injured in a bike accident. (Capital New York)

Hundreds of London cyclists participated in the "Tour du Danger," a tour of the city's 10 most dangerous intersections. (Guardian)

Jalopnik readers come up with what they call the ten cleverest ways to get drivers to slow down. A strategically-parked empty Crown Vic? Solar-powered fake cop lights? Holographic children? It's in there.


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NY Residents: We Want Transit on New Tappan Zee

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hundreds of Rockland County residents got their first look at plans for a new Tappan Zee Bridge – but many felt key details were left out of the discussion at the packed Palisades Center on Thursday.


Transportation Nation

Rockland County Residents: We Want A New Tappan Zee, But We'd Like Transit, Too

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pointing the way to the meeting at the Palisades Center in Nyack (photo by Kate Hinds)

Hundreds of Rockland County residents packed a community room in the Palisades Center Thursday to get their first look at plans for a new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The replacement span is estimated to cost $5.2 billion. It will have eight lanes, leaving a space in the middle for future transit. It will also have other features the current bridge lacks, like a breakdown lane and a bike and pedestrian walkway.

But other details weren’t available --like how the bridge will be financed, or at what future date transit might be added.

Betty Meisler, who lives in Valley Cottage, said the plans didn't look that different from the current bridge. “I would say a bus lane would be helpful, because they do have the Tappan Zee Express (bus) that takes people from the Palisades Center over to Tarrytown, to the train station and to White Plains. But if they’re not even going to have that, what are they doing to improve the transportation problems that we have now?”  M.J. Plachy, a resident of Upper Nyack, said she was grateful the new bridge will have a walkway and she would walk to the train station in Tarrytown. "But if there was a more reliable public transportation way of getting across the river," she said, "it would make my life so much easier."

She wasn't alone in that opinion. A number of local officials began their testimony by thanking Governor Cuomo for his leadership -- and then by asking that transit be prioritized. Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski stirred up memories of last year's ARC tunnel cancellation with some cautionary words. “Certainly," he said, "this could be Rockland’s last chance for having a one-seat ride into the city.”

Harriett Cornell, a Rockland County legislator, was applauded when she said “I think there’s a bit of a difference between not precluding public transportation and actively making provision for future transit in the construction.”

But Joan McDonald, commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation, took issue with the characterization that the bridge lacks transit. “The transit has not gone anywhere. I think it’s very important to clarify that. We’re speeding up construction of the bridge, we’re not slowing down transit. The project that’s on the table now will be built to not preclude transit in the future, when it is financially feasible.”

Joan McDonald, New York State DOT Commissioner, at the Tappan Zee Bridge scoping meeting in Nyack (photo by Kate Hinds)

She said it’s not just a financial reality, but a practical one. “Some of the transit issues, whether it’s BRT (bus rapid transit) or commuter rail, are very detailed issues that need to be resolved with localities, particularly in Rockland County. Where do you site bus rapid transit stations, where do you put parking, if you want to add another lane for bus rapid transit, that would entail property takings, and that will take two to three years to get there, and the costs are between two billion and four billion to build that.”

Image from the Tappan Zee scoping information session (photo by Kate Hinds)

There are other pressures. The existing bridge is in such bad shape that officials say just maintaining it for the next ten years would cost $1.3 billion.

And locals are eager for the construction jobs a new bridge would bring -- as well as the future benefits of having a reliable structure. Al Girardi works for Local 137, the International Union of Operating Engineers. “For most of 2011 we’ve probably run at about 43% unemployment,” he said. “A lot of our members are running out of benefits.” Christopher St. Lawrence, the supervisor for the town of Ramapo, said he didn’t want to lose businesses to New Jersey or Connecticut. “We are always competing, whether we’re keeping Avon in Suffern, or LeCroy in Chestnut Ridge, or Novartis -- some of our big employers.” He mentioned that Pfizer pulled up stakes in Rockland County -- a major blow to the area. “We need to be able to attract those businesses. Having a Tappan Zee Bridge that is functional is key to being able to do that.”

The state will release a draft environmental impact statement in January, and hold public hearings the following month. Joan McDonald said she expects the federal government to issue a decision by August 2012; construction will begin shortly after.

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Transportation Nation

Details of New Tappan Zee Plan Emerge

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tappan Zee Bridge (Nrbelex/WNYC)

(New York, NY --WNYC Newsroom) The  new Tappan Zee Bridge would open by 2017, be built to last more than 100 years and would include space that — one day — could be used for mass transit to cross, according to a new planning document.

The Federal Highway Administration and the New York State Department of Transportation released the planning document, called "Scoping Information Packet," in advance of public presentations scheduled this week on the project.

The existing span is overcrowded and deteriorating after 56 years of use. Earlier this month, the Obama administration helped jump-start replacement plans for the Tappan Zee Bridge, declaring it eligible for fast-tracked federal approvals.

However, one aspect of the proposal will not be going forward, at least not yet. The mass transit aspects of the new bridge were dropped, which helped trim the cost to $5.2 billion from as much as $21 billion. The document only talks of future mass transit.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino thinks that leaving mass transit off the current design is short-sighted. "I am troubled by the proposed design's absence of a mass transit component that would help alleviate congestion," he said. "A new bridge — without a mass transit component — would already be at capacity on the day of its opening."

The plan calls for two separate four-lane spans, separated by a 42-foot gap — which is where a future mass transit component could be included. It would be built just north of the current bridge.

With the Associated Press

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