Archive for the ‘Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge’ Category

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

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.

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

Socks, sneakers and wheels indicate a sign of the path to come/NYS Thruway Authority

“We need to encourage the members of the NYS Legislature to fund a bike path on Route 119 (a NYS road) so cyclists will be able to safely get to the Mario Cuomo Bridge bike path when it opens soon. Route 119 is very busy and dangerous for cyclists,” Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner wrote in a post on the village’s website here.

“In less than two months the NYS Legislature will approve the budget. It’s my hope that funding will be included for a bike path on Route 119 from the North and South County trails to the Mario Cuomo Bridge.

A bicycle lane will be opening on the new bridge within months. Unfortunately, it’s not very safe for cyclists to use unless they are experienced riders. Route 119 is a very busy road (with) lots of traffic. We’ve had bicycle accidents on Route 119 in the past, including a fatal accident closer to the County Center (there is a ghost bicycle at the scene of the accident to remind cyclists and motorists of the dangers).

Bicycle enthusiasts are very excited about the new bike path on the bridge. We would be more excited if there would be a safe way to get to and from the bridge. A bike path on Route 119 from the South and North County trails would enable cyclists to bike from the Bronx and Putnam County lines (South and North County trails) to Rockland safely.

This proposed bike lane is located in Greenburgh. However, it will be used by tourists and cyclists from all over the world since the bike path is expected to become a destination location, which is another reason why this bike path is so needed.”

Reposted from the Town of Greenburgh’s website.

On My Mind: New Year, Unanswered Questions

Socks, sneakers and wheels indicate a sign of the path to come/NYS Thruway Authority

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2020!

I’ve been asking about artwork on the new bridge since silence enveloped the projects after a Request For Proposal (RFP) last summer. Deadlines for submitting those proposals, and the deadline for installing one of them, were months ago. The next installation deadline comes in the spring.

Patricia Gallagher Newberry, Society of Professional Journalists national president, said, “Censorship has stalked a horrific path through history. This is another instance. It is heartening to find another way to fight this trend toward silencing public employees, which SPJ has identified as a grave risk to public welfare.”

This situation reminded me of a call I received five years ago during my quest for information about a failed silo on one of the two floating concrete batch plants that had arrived months earlier. Why did the contractor also shut down the batch plant that didn’t mechanically fail unless it, too, would experience the same issue at a later time?

An attorney responded, and then I received a call from one of the governor’s then-special advisor not long after about “tidying up” matters. Someone wanted me to stop asking, I’m sure. It took nearly a full year for someone to tell me “the Thruway Authority doesn’t have that kind of information in its records.”

I’d sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the New York State Thruway Authority, whose public information officer stalled me. One year later I learned my hunch was correct. Back then I asked: Would it have been a matter of time before that same malfunction occurred in the second batch plant although both were prepped, inspected and tested identically?

A project source told me: yes, the second plant would have malfunctioned, which I suspect was why the agency stalled, then refused to provide the documents I sought in the request.

One year after that accident, Governor Cuomo ruled on Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). His office reviewed each project-related FOIL request with a fine-tooth comb, sources told me as the FOIL request hit snags that were more like stone walls.

Never stop asking questions.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2020

Second Outreach Center Closes; SUP Progressing

There’s an empty space on Main Street in Nyack, where one Outreach Center had been since early 2013. If you thought they posed with a cross steel section of pile for a reason, then you were right. It was moving out day; both Centers are now part of the project’s history (Tarrytown closed last year).

I parked on Clinton Avenue to see the Esposito Trail and side path, separated by a divider and newly-planted young trees (November 15 per the tags around those I checked). A young boy was bicycling in the center of the trail while his father ran in the center of the new spur path.

Local cycling groups want the path open 24/7, claiming it’s a transportation mode to which they need uninterrupted access. Hours have not been decided.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2019

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