Why we must do better
Last week, New York State released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed new Tappan Zee Bridge project. Since that time, Riverkeeper has reviewed the 1,000+ page document and found serious areas of concern.
As environmental advocates whose core mission is to protect and restore the Hudson River, Riverkeeper is extremely disturbed about the damage to the Hudson and its key fish species, such as endangered Atlantic and Shortnose sturgeon and declining stocks of American Shad, that would result from the pile driving and dredging described in the replacement bridge proposal. While Federal biologists have issued a permit allowing only four sturgeon to be killed in building a new bridge, NY State environmental officials have predicted that the pile driving alone, during bridge construction, will kill as many as 141 Atlantic and Shortnose sturgeon, which would deal an irreparable blow to the dwindling Atlantic Sturgeon population. In addition, the State has rejected the use of construction techniques that could eliminate the need to dredge a 500 foot wide trench across the Hudson, destroying habitat and affecting critical fish migrations.
The FEIS also fails to address the addition of mass transit in any meaningful way, ignoring the needs of commuters who would greatly benefit from lower cost options to cross the river in the face of the $14 dollar tolls that would come along with a new bridge. As recently as 2009, the NYS Thruway Authority was saying that “mass transit offers the only realistic means of improving mobility” on the bridge and surrounding highways like Interstate 287. And the longer we wait for transit, the bigger and more costly the problem becomes. State projections show that travel along I-287 and the bridge will increase by as much as 44,000 trips each day, leading to longer delays and more accidents that will cost New Yorkers $166 million dollars annually by 2047.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Roughly 50,000 drivers would trade their cars for a reliable bus system, according to the State. The State argues that we can’t afford such a system, but, in an increasingly congested region like ours, where more cars means more delays and accidents, how can we afford not to include rapid transit in any plan for a new Hudson River crossing?
Of equal concern is the absence of a detailed analysis of options in the FEIS that may be better for the river and New Yorker’s pocketbooks. One such option that was not explored in the FEIS is the tunnel alternative. Building a tunnel under the bed of the Hudson River would dramatically reduce impacts to this invaluable natural resource, as well as restore the magnificent Tappan Zee section of the river to local communities. The State insists a tunnel alternative won’t work, but it relies on a 2007 study that doesn’t consider the most current tunnel technology, and it refuses to do a fair, public comparison of the costs and benefits of a tunnel vs. two new bridges. The public deserves to have such a comparison to consider before being asked to foot the bill for a $5 billion project to build a two-span bridge, without mass transit, which will cause severe damage to the Hudson River environment.
Riverkeeper stands ready to work with New York State on a Tappan Zee Bridge project that is right for our region, one that abides by Governor Cuomo’s promise in 2010 to provide “environmentally friendly public transportation” and protection of our natural resources. In the meantime, we will work to make sure that the needs of our river and the people living near it are met.