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New Tappan Zee Bridge toll to nearly triple

August 3, 2012 2:40:09 PM PDT
The new Tappan Zee Bridge will have cash tolls around $14, as opposed to the current toll of $5.

That's the word from state officials who spoke at a community meeting Thursday night in Rockland County.

Tolls will nearly triple for E-ZPass travelers and those with a commuter-discount plan.

According to officials, the tolls would have gone up even if the existing bridge was kept.

The state also plans innovative measures to protect fish and people during the bridge's construction.

Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement on Friday saying, "On the cost the choice is clear, a new better bridge will require about the same tolls as just fixing the old bridge and about half the toll of a new bridge plus a new bus system."

Residents will be able to go online to check noise and air quality levels. Fish in the Hudson River will be protected from the acoustic effects of pile driving by underwater "bubble curtains."

The updated environmental impact statement - like a draft released in January - concludes that the bridge will have no major, lasting environmental effects. Dredging will affect some life forms in the riverbed, however, and builders will have to undertake environmental programs elsewhere in the river to compensate, the report says.

The report continues to call for demolition of the existing bridge, disappointing enthusiasts who had been calling for it to become a car-free greenway, like Manhattan's High Line.

Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner asked why taxpayer money should go toward demolition "when we could turn the old bridge into a world class destination park?"

The report also reveals no change in the plans for rapid transit, a concern for many who felt train or bus systems should be incorporated. The bridge will be built strong enough to handle commuter trains but no new transit lines are being built to take advantage of that. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office has promised that at least during rush hour, there will be lanes dedicated to buses.

Adding even a bus rapid transit system to the bridge - and the 30-mile corridor it anchors - would double the cost of the project, now estimated at $5.4 billion, the administration says. A commuter train line would cost billions more.

Paul Gallay, president of the environmental group Riverkeeper, said mass transit was dismissed too easily.

"The state has said they cannot do mass transit at this stage because the 30-mile corridor is too costly," he said. "Instead of what you can't do, tell us something you can do, something more modest but meaningful."

For auto commuters, however, the bridge should be a big improvement once it replaces the current Tappan Zee, an aging and overused span built in 1955 that carries Interstate 87, the state Thruway. The new span between Tarrytown and Nyack will have more lanes, shoulders to handle breakdowns and several toll lanes that cars can use at highway speed. Its steep climb over the Hudson will be more gradual, helping trucks maintain their speed.

Currently, accidents and breakdowns cause big delays at rush hour, partly because disabled cars block traffic and emergency vehicles have no lanes available.

The report says the bridge will be safer and air pollution will be reduced because of less congestion.

It says the state no longer plans to take anyone's property. Nine households had been targeted in the draft, but design changes were made.

Monitors measuring noise and particulates will be placed throughout the area and they can be checked in real time online, the report says. It says excessive noise has to be stopped an hour after it's reported.

"We are making every effort to limit negative impacts on residents and the environment," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The report says pile driving will generally be prohibited between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. A method that uses vibration rather than pounding to get piles in place will be used when possible.

When there is pile driving, underwater devices will pump out curtains of air bubbles - not unlike air stones in a fish tank - to minimize the acoustic effect on animals. Dredging will be limited to August, September and October to avoid peak migration and spawning.

During dredging, a fish expert will be present to make sure any captured shortnose or Atlantic sturgeon - both endangered - are released, the report says.

Construction is expected to begin late this year or early next year and to last about five years. But first, a builder has to be chosen from among three that submitted bids.

In October, President Barack Obama declared the bridge eligible for fast-tracked federal approvals. Funding has yet to be detailed but the state is hoping for federal aid.

LINK: READ THE REPORT

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