Thruway, Bridge Authorities to remain Separate

Throwback Thursday: Last month I wrote an article about a controversial proposal in the state’s budget. As it was not published by the assigning editor, I’m posting it here. Thank you in appreciation to everyone who shared stories and submitted photos while hoping the proposal would be defeated. It was.

Anticipating higher tolls and the ensuing hardship to their communities, Hudson Valley lawmakers and officials are fighting a proposal in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $178 billion 2021 budget to merge the Bridge and Thruway Authorities.

With its 570 miles of roadways, 814 bridges, 118 interchanges, 11 toll barriers and 27 service areas, the New York State Thruway Authority collects approximately $800 million annually. In September 2018, the agency fully opened the $3.98 billion, twin-span Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (New NY Bridge project) that replaced the Tappan Zee Bridge between Westchester and Rockland Counties. The structure’s side path and six overlooks on its northern span, and landings in Tarrytown and South Nyack, will open this year.

Dissent and concern as deadline nears

“I strongly oppose this because it’s a solution in search of a problem,” Assemblymember Jonathan G. Jacobson (D-Newburgh) said. “There are no efficiencies to be gained as the New York State Bridge Authority is one of the most efficient agencies and has low tolls.”

Newburgh-Beacon Bridge/Photo credit Greg Herd

Worried eyes focus on the NYSBA’s Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, which subsidizes the other four — Rip Van Winkle, Kingston-Rhinecliff, Mid-Hudson and Bear Mountain Bridges — and carries I-84, taking in nearly half ($30 million) of NYSBA’s $62 million annual revenue.

“The governor can use it (Newburgh-Beacon) to get more money to pay for the Cuomo Bridge,” Jacobson said. Tolls on the other bridges would then increase, he said, “and that’s not fair. Around here, we cross the Hudson as often as some people travel Main Street. If you live in Highland you go to Poughkeepsie to shop, and if you live in Beacon and need a hospital, you go to St. Luke’s in Newburgh.”

Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge/Photo credit Greg Herd

NYSBA is responsible for Walkway Over The Hudson Historic State Park, the 1.28-mile span between Poughkeepsie and Highland. It will not be impacted as it has a 99-year operating agreement with the Bridge Authority that runs through 2109 and will remain in force, Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYC Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, said.

Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Frank Castella, Jr. can pick up the phone and voice a concern or a need to the Bridge Authority. “This is how a business-community partnership works,” he said. “We fear that relationship will disappear with the Thruway Authority, and we’ll start paying taxes without seeing where they’re spent.”

Mid-Hudson Bridge/Photo credit Greg Herd

A few years ago, the Chamber asked if it could fly the Special Olympics flag from the Mid-Hudson Bridge to honor the games being held in Poughkeepsie. “They said ‘yes’ and told us the dimensions of the flag,” Castella said. “It’s the first time a flag other than the American flag hung from that bridge.”

Emphasizing its economic drawbacks, Greene County Chamber of Commerce President / Executive Director Jeff Friedman said the Chamber also strongly opposes the merger and called it unnecessary. “Affordable tolls on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge are important,” he said. “They’re a lifeline for students attending Columbia Greene Community College and necessary for people going to the train station. And Columbia Memorial Hospital is across the river.”

Rip Van Winkle Bridge/Photo credit Greg Herd

It’s a chance for the state to achieve some efficiency, Dave Friedfel at Citizens Budget Commission countered. “If something happens to one of those bridges, then traffic will shift to others within the system, and costs will be shared.”

“We already collaborate with the state to find savings on purchases,” Bridge Authority Chair Richard Gerentine said. “NYSBA is run by a Board of local volunteers who have always championed efficiency, maintenance, and safety.” None of the five bridges has ever been red-flagged during inspections.

Bear Mountain Bridge/Photo credit Greg Herd

Friedman noted the Bear Mountain Bridge is close to 100 years old yet the Tappan Zee was replaced after nearly 62 years. “We’re also concerned about safety and the fact that the Thruway Authority is deeply in debt due to (it) and needed DOT subsidizing.”

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston introduced Bill A190 directing the Authorities to study how they can share services, combine functions and to determine the feasibility of merging that is in Assembly Committee. The Town of Newburgh passed a resolution opposing the merger; Ulster County adopted a similar resolution March 17.

Jacobson is confident the legislature will remove the proposal from the budget as “it will change everything in the Hudson Valley.”

Seeing educational opportunities

NYSBA partnership’s with Historic Bridges of the Hudson Valley was initiated in 2014 by former Authority Executive Director Joseph Ruggiero. This “small yet far-reaching not-for-profit educates the Hudson Valley and beyond about its amazing structures,” HBHV Executive Director Kathryn Burke said.

Master Teacher class at Bear Mountain Bridge

While the state and the governor talk about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, Burke said, “HBHV makes a connection between STEM education and careers for educators and their students, and that is the missing piece in education today. Skills are taught, yet very few schools and educators are able to direct students to the vast variety of STEM careers.”

Arlington High School science teacher Steve Hertzog attended two HBHV-facilitated workshops for teachers last year that “provided a wonderful, panoramic view of the historical, technological, and socioeconomic impacts of the Hudson river bridges on the development of the Hudson Valley and its communities,” he said.

At Bear Mountain Bridge, NYSBA engineer explains tools

Hearing historical stories and feats of engineering, Hertzog said, “helps educators gain a better perspective on the impacts and opportunities that these bridges have provided and continue to provide for the Hudson Valley. When politicians cry out for rebuilding our nation’s ‘crumbling infrastructure,’ it doesn’t seem to apply to bridges north of the Cuomo Bridge.”

New York State Master Teacher Sunitha Howard brought her science classes at Yonkers Public Schools to the Bear Mountain Bridge to learn about STEAM.

NYSBA engineering intern Juan Cardenas with students

“Many of them have never been there before, and they’re fascinated by it,” Howard said. “We took them on a hike, and then went to the museum near the toll house,” where they heard from an engineering student, saw a 3D digital computer-aided design printing of the Bear Mountain Bridge, touched materials that were part of the bridge and saw where it was connected to the ground.

“It was a thrill for them,” she said. “These programs inspire the next generation of leaders in engineering and technology.”

Howard and Burke fear HBHV programs will be discontinued if the merger happens. The Thruway Authority declined to comment about the educational component.

* * * * *

When replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge became a reality, the NNYB project team saw building its replacement as an opportunity. Since 2013, more than 70,000 students learned about the project through an educational outreach program tailored to their grades and ages. Each year of the program correlated to each stage of building and construction.

Rebar sample is heavier than it looks/Photo credit NYSTA

They learned about the oyster relocation program and protecting endangered sturgeon and other aquatic life, and how the eight main span towers were built using jump forms. Kids touched samples of sheaths within the stay cables supporting the main span, held a piece of 18-gauge rebar (reinforcing steel bar) like that of the bridge’s invisible, interwoven support network and learned how engineers used building information modeling (BIM), a 3D model-based process.

“For four years we have worked with Andy O’Rourke, who has come to visit with our classes to discuss the STREAM (STEM plus research and art) ideas behind bridge-building,” Micki Lockwood, a 4th grade teacher at Claremont Elementary School in Ossining, said. “Students read about bridges, watched videos, designed bridges and had fun collaborating on low tech and high tech activities.”

Claremont School 4th grade/Photo credit Micki Lockwood

Lockwood described it as “an amazing opportunity to integrate our learning with a project that is happening right along our beautiful Hudson River.” When the pair of Peregrine falcons returned to the nest box atop one of the bridge’s towers each spring, there was a naming contest for the young hatchlings. Her students were excited the names they submitted — Puente and Rio — were chosen for two years.

“The NNYB project was an amazing resource for our studies,” she said. “My hope is that hearing the stories of the people who worked on the bridge will motivate our students to seek out careers in STREAM.”

Incremental toll hikes

The decade-long $5 cash ride from Rockland to Westchester ends this year. Cash tolls rise 30 percent to $6.83 in 2021 and $7.48 in 2022, plus a $2 monthly surcharge; E-ZPass® will be $5.25 in 2021 and $5.75 in 2022. The Board proposed a 40 percent commuter discount at the New York E-ZPass® rate and no increases for Westchester and Rockland residents through 2022. Changes await public comment.

Skywalk Arts Festival near Rip Van Winkle Bridge toll plaza

NYSTA’s 2020 budget of $1.3 billion is $33 million or 2.4 percent less than 2019 and includes $72.4 million for the NNYB project, $371.7 million for operating expenses and $533.7 million for system-wide capital projects. Sections of roadway and a majority of its bridges date back to when the system opened in the 1950s, and need continual and significant repair and rebuilding.

NYSBA cash tolls become $1.75 in May, $2 in May 2022, and $2.15 in May 2023. E-ZPass® tolls, currently $1.25, incrementally increase $.10 annually from May 2020 to May 2023, when the rate will be $1.65. A public hearing was held March 9.

The Authority is proceeding to bid out for the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge’s north span redecking project, which is the largest project that will be funded through the toll revision, NYSBA spokesman Chris Steber said.

Heading eastbound on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge/Creative Commons photo credit April 2009 RF Bailey

“Tolls are used for maintenance of spans, operations and debt service,” Steber said. “About 97% of the Authority’s revenue comes from tolls; the other 3 percent is from investment income, ad revenue on toll arms, and leasing dark fiber that goes over the bridge. This amounts to about $52.9 million in funds as of January 31, 2020.”

“The Authority believes strongly in preventive maintenance, and we do the best we can with the lowest possible toll rate,” he added. “Passenger cars pay less today than in the 1930s during the Depression, when drivers paid $1.60 roundtrip, plus an additional $.20 per passenger. That would be over $30 today with inflation.”

The NYSTA responded in a statement, “Both the Bridge and Thruway authorities operate with some of the lowest tolls in the nation, and that will remain unchanged with a merger as their revenue and how it is utilized will — and must be — invested to support their operations and capital programs.”

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2020

Escaping the Solitude while Driving the Familiar

Yesterday I went for a drive north, then came back, chose another destination, then changed my mind again. While stopped at a red light at the end of Exit 10 I saw a minivan with what looked like three or four adults in the front and middle seats and many children piled into the back.

So much for social distancing.

I miss seeing my friends though we speak during the week. Shopping has become a project: put on gloves, a mask and steer clear of other people. We miss doing things effortlessly and smile at each other from safe distances. The owner of a restaurant I frequent to order dinner for mom and me closed and temporarily fired his employees, he told me. There’s not enough take-out business for him to stay open; he hopes to rehire them in the future. He’s not alone.

That’s the other part: who knows when this will end? Teenagers on my street walk shoulder to shoulder, texting; people coming off the bicycle path waiting to cross the Bronx River Parkway stand inches from each other. How can we manage?

Thursday I met a neighbor I usually hug when greeting. We waved to each other across the lobby and chatted for a few minutes from where we stood, the new normal for now. Stay safe.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2020

Blue Sky and Fresh Air: antidotes for Loneliness

Nearly two weeks since I last posted and less time since I checked progress on the project. The new building for Troop T has state police cars parked in front while work on the administrative building and landing areas continue.

Yesterday was eight years since my first bridge meeting in Tarrytown. A recent bout of cabin fever was temporarily thwarted by writing some personal thoughts.

I’ve shared about mom and how she was looking forward to her first car trip after more than two years, and how it would be across the new bridge to Memorial Park. Last June we drove to Nyack and stopped for ice cream.

As the northern span’s side path is 3.6 miles landing to landing, whenever I’m driving I check the odometer to get an idea how far 3.6 miles is from where I start. I’d like to see the overlooks, and after resuming walking (warmer weather) realize I can walk half the bridge at a time.

Yesterday I drove to Memorial Park to hear the river. It was as quiet as life seems to be now save for music coming from a car and two noisy birds that circled round, appearing to pause so I could take their photos before gliding toward the water.

Parked next to me was an enlisted man who had a miniature bear doll dressed in fatigues on his car’s back window. That got my attention as dad was in World War II so I started talking to him from a distance. We talked about this and how it’s become our unsettling new normal.

The drive home was as eerie as the drive there with cars on the mostly-empty highway and bridge passing me. Stopped at a red light on Route 119 in White Plains, I looked into my rear view mirror and saw four 20-somethings (or younger) in a small car behind me. Social distancing they were not.

I covered my nose and mouth with a scarf and wore surgical gloves I’d bought to use when caring for mom. I kept my distance from people at the park and thought about the beautiful, crisp day and blue sky that were the opposites of this sudden, underlying unknown.

Mom is safe at home with two terrific aides who wash their hands at least 20 times daily and wear gloves while tending to her. Governor Cuomo said masks should be worn around the elderly and vulnerable yet where to find them?

These are scary times. Stay safe.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2020

Greenburgh Town Supervisor reiterates a Bike Path is needed on Route 119 for Safety Reasons

Eastbound on Route 119 in White Plains. L is Bronx River Pkwy; R is Central Avenue

On April 1st the NYS Legislature will approve a budget. One goal: fund a bike path on Route 119 from the South County/North County trail to the bridge. This would enable cyclists to bike from Westchester & Putnam to the bridge safely. Avoid fatalities.

Within a few months the new bike path on the Mario Cuomo bridge will open to thousands of cyclists. The bike path is definitely going to become a major destination location for cyclists from around the world  (similar to the Walkway over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie that attracted 615,000 people in 2019).

I’m a cyclist and am very excited about the bike path that will open. But, am very nervous about the safety of cyclists getting to and from the bridge. 119  has significant traffic. There have been bicycle fatalities on the bridge . In 2009 Greenburgh resident and community activist Merrill Cassell was sideswiped by a Bee line bus in Greenburgh on 119. Last year Westchester settled a case with the widow and paid Mrs. Cassell $75,000.

In recent years Dan Convissor, head of Bike Tarrytown and others have been pushing for a bike path or lane on Route 119. I enthusiastically support this initiative. Greenburgh had received a grant from the state of NY in 2017 for $250,000 as part of the new NY bridge project to redesign Route 119 to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.   Now, it’s time for State Legislators to fund the bike safety initiative . It would be sad if cyclists lose their life biking to a safe bicycle friendly bridge because the road leading to the bridge was not safe.  The state budget will be approved on April 1. Reach out to the Governor and your State Legislators and tell them this is important.

If NYS would fund a bike path/lane from the South County/North County trail to the bridge it will enable cyclists to safely get to and from the bridge from the Bronx/Westchester border and from Putnam County –without cycling on dangerous streets.

A safe bicycle friendly Route 119 would also help some of the area hotels on Route 119 attract guests interested in cycling.

Reposted from the Town of Greenburgh’s website.

Accessing New Path from the Rockland Landing

THE FLUX OF BEING (Chris Soria, Nyack) Mural

The new path will have colorful murals under the South Broadway underpass. For someone like my mom, who is in a wheelchair, how to see the art? It looks like a precarious route from the South Nyack landing’s parking lot.

The spur path behind the Village Hall this be an alternative way for her, and others who are wheelchair-bound, to access and view this mural. The only rendering that shows someone in a wheelchair is close to the Tarrytown landing at street level.

Ramp behind South Nyack Village hall leads to path, trail/courtesy of @BikeTarrytown

Path accessibility from the Rockland landing may be challenging for people who are in wheelchairs like my mom; an entrance closer to river level would have been more convenient. It looks like a big push to the spur path and a steep decline for a wheelchair.

Residents’ resistance resulted in the state moving the terminus to its land at Exit 10, and the village determined to prevent outsiders from parking on its streets to access the spur path.

We’ll see what happens when it opens.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2020

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