Why is the Bridge Curved? and other Questions

Outline of NYC buildings from RiverWalk Park in Tarrytown

Outline of NYC buildings from RiverWalk Park in Tarrytown

Last week Saint Peter’s University professor Philip Mark Plotch said gribbles were partly behind the state’s urgency to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.

A few months before their terms expired, Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch and former MTA chairman told Paterson, “The time to address the Tappan Zee Bridge is imminent,” Plotch wrote.

Ravitch explained that Hudson River cleanup programs had been so effective that marine organisms were now able to thrive in the river and eat the wooden pilings on the bridge’s causeway. Paterson replied with a big smile, “Well, we’ll either have to solve the bridge problem or re-pollute the water.”

Paterson enjoyed his quip so much that he told Ravitch, “We’re going to have to put this in a book one day.”

Made you think, right?

Politics Across The Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject was “my dissertation after receiving a Ph.D., a research project,” Plotch told a packed room at Nyack Library last week. “The question I wanted to answer in 2011 was, Why is the state studying what to do on the I-287 corridor year after year after year?”

I asked the author several questions after his talk to learn more.

What is the biggest misconception you feel people are told today?

Nothing ever goes perfect with a $4 billion, 3.1-mile-long bridge but we don’t hear about the problems the Thruway is dealing with.

Please talk about that “line” in the bridge.

The original designers introduced two hundred gaps (joints) in the deck so the bridge could accommodate settlement of the soft soils beneath the river. These gaps would later provide a direct route for deicing salts to leak onto the steel below. (page 13)

Why did Governor Cuomo call President Obama for support with bridge project?

Obama fast-tracked the TZB project/© Janie Rosman 2014

Obama fast-tracked the TZB project/© Janie Rosman 2014

Cuomo talked to Obama’s chief of staff because he (Cuomo) wanted the White House to streamline the regulatory process for the Tappan Zee Bridge.

As soon as the White House selected the Tappan Zee Bridge project, the federal agencies developed a memorandum of agreement to define the agencies’ roles and expectations. They committed to providing substantive comments with a short turn-around time. (page 169)

The federal government also set up a multiagency “permitting dashboard” at http://www.permits.performance.gov to track the status of the review process. This website monitored the work of eight different federal agencies and included contact names, responsibilities, and status. It was like posting ongoing report cards. One federal highway official said, “We knew people were looking over our shoulders,” and “everyone clicks their heels together when the president wants something.” (page 95)

What happened to the toll and financing task force?

Regarding the toll task force, clearly the state would rather not talk about future toll increases until it has to raise them.

What are your thoughts on design-build?

The state should save both money and time on the construction because it hired one firm to do both the design and build the bridge. Governor Cuomo knew how important it would be for the Tappan Zee project, which is why he pushed the legislature to allow the Thruway Authority to hire one firm to do both.

How do you know bridge would last more than 50 years (it turns 60 in December)?

The Thruway Authority dug through its records searching for anything that indicated it was designed to last for 50 years but they could never find anything.

Some feel the state withholds information despite claims of transparency. Initially they were unable to figure out the new Thruway’s exact route or which properties the state would need — or did they know and not tell?

“If they did (tell), then there would have been a lot of people upset along the entire route.” Plotch said. Governor Thomas E. Dewey kept the information hidden as long as he could and waited until he knew the specific properties needed for each section before announcing the Thruway’s path.

“One of the points of my talk was that in order to get things done, Cuomo had to minimize transparency, public participation and eliminate an overly expensive public transportation component. Dewey did the same thing,” he explained.

During a sound barrier meeting three years ago one irate resident asked why the state couldn’t build a straight bridge between the two counties. Robert Conway, Senior Vice President, AKRF Environmental, Planning and Engineering Consultants, replied, “It has to do with boundaries,” without mentioning the reason.

“That’s really interesting to me,” Plotch said. “Because that’s exactly the same way the Thruway Authority dealt with the issue in the early 1950s. They didn’t say what the boundary issue was, either. If the bridge wasn’t curved, then it would be within the Port Authority’s 25-mile jurisdiction, which starts at the Statue of Liberty.”

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2015

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