Archive for the ‘US Department of Transportation’ Category

ICYMI: Building Bridges: New York Increases Infrastructure Plans

Tarrytown, N.Y. – During a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Hudson Valley’s newest bridge last August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted the state’s projects. “I believe our mojo is back. Our confidence is back, our energy is back, and we know and we have proven that there is nothing that we can’t do when we work together.”

The $1 trillion promise made by Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign was also on the governor’s mind. “So far, nothing has materialized,” Cuomo said, one day before the westbound span of the new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, named after his late father, opened immediately north of the Tappan Zee Bridge it replaces. “But New York is not waiting for the federal government.”

Acknowledging deficient infrastructure exacerbated by dwindling money to repair or replace it – and now in office little more than one year – President Trump presented instead a $1.5 trillion infrastructure spending plan, a $200 billion package that shifts financial burden onto states and private investors during the next 10 years.

A $100 billion infrastructure plan outlined in Cuomo’s 2016 agenda includes modernizing several airports, building a new LaGuardia Airport, increasing the capacity of public transportation, renovating Penn Station, expanding the Javits Convention Center in New York City, and investing in roads, bridges and tunnels.

“There’s one word: commitment,” New York State Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll says. “It goes without saying there are a lot of infrastructure challenges, and we’re working closely with federal partners (and) our Congressional delegation.”

Equally important, Driscoll notes, are the 2,500 local-level projects across the state. “These are very important to local economies and transportation needs, and while it’s a big undertaking, the resources are there.”

Cuomo focused on replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge after talks in 1999 to include it in a 30-mile improvement project along Interstate 287 stalled for the next 10 years. Nearly 140,000 vehicles crossed the 3.1-mile Tappan Zee Bridge at one of the Hudson River’s widest points daily; the river was visible through cracks in the pavement even with the Thruway Authority’s recent deck replacement program that began in 2007 and continued into 2013.

“At times you can see the river through the cracks of the pavement,” then-President Barack Obama said about the Tappan Zee during a May 2014 visit to the Hudson Valley. “Now, I’m not an engineer, but I figure that’s not good.”

Key elements that determine the status of a bridge are its deck or its superstructure (above the deck) or the supports beneath the deck. Ratings are based upon biennial bridge inspections; state and local governments submit the data to the Federal Highway Administration as part of the National Bridge Inventory. “Not every bridge that gets fixed is structurally deficient,” American Road & Transportation Builders Association Economist Alison Premo Black says.

ARTBA reports the average age of a structurally deficient bridge is 67 years, compared to 40 years for non-deficient bridges; states have identified needed repairs on nearly one-third of U.S. bridges. The Tappan Zee Bridge was retired in early October, two months short of its 62nd birthday.

With support from Obama and the U.S. Department of Transportation through design-build legislation signed by Cuomo in December 2011 and a fast-tracked federal environmental review and procurement process, the Empire State’s bridge replacement project (named the New NY Bridge Project) forged ahead in early 2012 when the state released its Request for Proposals.

“Design-build ignites the private sector’s ability to innovate,” Driscoll says. “It’s worked well at the state level, too, as the Department of Transportation has completed projects with design-build. It’s more cost-effective and accelerates efforts.”

When a team is hired together, it can order supplies in advance, especially if there’s a shortage of materials and a six- to eight-week window before materials arrive. “This allows them to innovate and discuss what will and won’t work early on. For example, an architect may suggest something that is too expensive for a plumber to deliver on budget,” explains Lisa Washington, executive director and CEO at Design-Build Institute of America in Washington.

Consortium Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC (TZC) won the $3.98 billion contract thanks to its massive crane, the Left Coast Lifter (nicknamed I Lift NY) that reduced dredging needs by 50 percent and saved New York $1 billion. The projected cost was originally expected to exceed $5 billion. With the ability to lift 12 Statues of Liberty, the crane is hoisting and placing sections of steel and concrete onto the new bridge and is helping dismantle the old bridge. Its two moveable barriers and 133 of its deck panels will be sent to other state and local municipalities.

“Engineering professionals involved in project delivery, who regularly evaluate mistakes that make it from design to construction, observed around 80 percent of errors are created when the source engineering data is communicated through traditional plans sheets,” says Danny Kahler, principal at Kahler Engineering Group in Dallas and past chair of American Society of Civil Engineers Digital Project Delivery committee.

TZC is also using building information modeling (BIM), which is “one type of software, among many others, that helps manage the information of design and construction, especially in the vertical market,” Kahler says. “It’s the exploitation of the actual engineering data that has the potential to save time and money.”

The second span of the Cuomo Bridge is slated to open to traffic sometime this year and on budget with eight traffic lanes, four breakdown/emergency lanes, a state-of-the-art traffic monitoring system, a dedicated bus lane, room for future light rail, cashless tolling and LED lighting. Crews will then build the walking/bicycle path the new bridge’s northern span.

While the lower Hudson Valley’s newest bridge is the one of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects in the country, it has not been the only one. Two immense projects were the Interstate-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis, which collapsed in 2007 during evening rush hour, and the Pentagon project just outside of the nation’s capital.

Even with harsh winters, the I-35W Bridge was completed in less than one year – three months ahead of schedule – and cost $234 million, excluding contractor bonuses for completing it earlier than planned. “The team committed to building it better and took a limited budget, partnering early on with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and building the bridge for a 100-year life span,” Washington says.

One of the nation’s largest design-build projects – the $1.2 billion, 20-year Pentagon Renovation Program (known as PenRen) – was already underway when the building was attacked on 9/11. Its model jump-started the post-9/11 Phoenix Project, which was launched immediately with a $500 million budget and a goal of reopening the damaged wings before the first anniversary. It was finished 28 days ahead of schedule and nearly $194 million under budget.

While states may have to jockey for federal money, the Empire State is taking the lead with robust plans. For the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project, Cuomo believes “it was our New York energy, our New York attitude, it was our New York drive that made it happen.”

My article was originally published in U.S. News & World Report April 2, 2018.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2018

No TZB Fare Hike in 2016; Toll Task Force in Place

Discounts ahead for local residents, commuters?/Rani Levi

Discounts ahead for local residents, commuters?/Rani Levi

For the sixth consecutive year tolls, including the bridge, will remain unchanged, Thruway Authority Executive Director Robert Megna told its Board yesterday.

“Given our success in balancing the Thruway’s budget and the infusion of additional funding from Governor Cuomo, we have alleviated the need to implement a toll increase for the remainder of 2015 and for all of 2016,” Megna said.

Contributing are a $1.285 billion boost to the Thruway Stabilization Fund — $750 million to the bridge project — included in the 2015-16 state budget, and the $1.6 billion TIFIA loan signed in December 2013.

The agency said independent traffic engineering forecasts “include significant upward revisions from the previous forecast submitted in May 2015. The 2016 budget forecast shows a traffic growth of 3.4 million vehicles or 1.3 percent above 2015.” More vehicles (259.3 million) equal more revenue.

Signs informing drivers of toll plaza lanes/Courtesy of Steve Alpert at

Signs informing drivers of toll plaza lanes/Courtesy of Steve Alpert at

More news: the toll advisory task force is now a reality and has until mid-2016 to brainstorm toll reviews, potential commuter discount options, a resident discount program and commercial vehicle rates. Governor Cuomo spoke about a resident discount early on; I’ve always felt commercial vehicles using the bridge deserve to pay more.

Megna and state Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll will co-chair the group, which will meet monthly, ask for public input and report its findings in mid-2016.

Albany mayor Gerald D. Jennings; Matthew Rand, managing partner of Better Homes and Gardens, Rand Realty, Rand Commercial Services and Hudson United Home Services; former state Department of Transportation commissioner Joan McDonald; Lawrence C. Salley, Chairman of the White Plains Housing Authority and former Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Transportation; and former NYC comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr.

Newly named Executive Project Engineer Jamey Barbas, P.E. has more than 30 years of experience in bridge management, design, construction and inspection with a special emphasis on complex and long span bridges. Project Manager Peter Sanderson will analyze critical issues associated with construction phases.

The website has a new look. I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2015

Double Trucks’ Fares on the New NY Bridge

Instead of discounting trucks that will cross the new bridge between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., I suggest they pay double fares from the get go. How will allowing trucks a free ride ease traffic if there’s an accident at 4:30 a.m., or at any hour?

June 2011 Thruway accident details and photo credit:

June 2011 Thruway accident details and photo credit:

Nyack resident Michael Bookman claims, “Fewer trucks on the highways and bridges during the day means reduced congestion, which means reduced emissions and people getting to work faster, which means increased economic productivity.”

Not if they’re speeding. Some do, and at way more than 65 miles per hour. While Thruway speed limit is that north of here, we’re talking about Westchester and Rockland Counties. Connected by the Tappan Zee Bridge. In sometimes-hazardous conditions due to weather.

How many times have you been on I-287 in the fast lane, and a truck speeds past you in the middle lane? C’mon. It happens, often.

Per the Thruway Fact Book: “The Thruway is a vital commercial link for New York’s largest cities and for the entire Northeast. About one-third of all vehicles using the Thruway are from out of state.”


“The Thruway is strictly a user-supported System. Only those who travel the Thruway pay for it. The Thruway Authority receives no State tax dollars and is therefore dependent on toll revenues to operate, maintain and police its roads and bridges. These revenues also allow the Thruway Authority to provide a superior level of maintenance with its Snow-And-Ice Control Program.”

It’s not new news. The state needs to find alternate sources of revenue (translated: new money) to pay for this bridge. I’ve attended the past year’s Mass Transit Task Force meetings (open to the public) and heard nothing about commercial vehicles using the bridge.

“In Westchester County, the Thruway connects the Connecticut Turnpike at the terminus of its New England Section (I-95) in Port Chester. In Rockland County, Interstate 287 near Suffern connects with major highways in New Jersey, including the Garden State Parkway at the New Jersey-New York line in Chestnut Ridge (although no trucks are allowed on the GSP in NJ).”

No free rides for trucks. Especially for out-of-state trucks.

I’m glad Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested giving local residents a fare break, whether or not they commute daily. And while the 45% toll hike for trucks won’t happen on the 570-mile Thruway, I feel commercial vehicles deserve to pay more – at least on the new bridge.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2014

Bridge Business: Record-breaking Loan Approved for TZ Project

Daylight view courtesy of the New NY Bridge

News broke about the state’s historic $1.6 billion Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan for the new TZ Bridge hours before it was finalized.

“At 4 p.m. today, Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison will close the deal (with the U.S. Department of Transportation),” special project advisor Brian Conybeare revealed at the December 19 Rockland Business Association meeting.

Nearly $700 million more than anticipated, it’s the largest low-interest (3.89 percent) loan in TIFIA history, and is a major triumph for the New NY Bridge project.

Design-build legislation signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo two years ago allows the team, Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC (TZC) to speed up the project by starting construction on support systems while still finishing other aspects of final design that will be built later.

Project officials said TZC’s “must be substantially completed by June 2014,” and then it and the TA can finalize plans and designs specifics — guard rails, sound barriers, bridge access for maintenance crews and construction details of the bridge structure and foundations. Conybeare assured that there will always be a bridge between South Nyack and Tarrytown as the new one is constructed, and the current one is dismantled.

“We are fully committed to seeing this project through on time and on budget, while limiting the impact on both toll payers and taxpayers,” Cuomo said.

Public opposition to paying $14 for a three-mile ride got Albany’s attention in August 2012, after Cuomo’s secretary and chief-of-staff Larry Schwartz announced the probability of inflated cash tolls on the new bridge. Eight days later, Cuomo called for a task force to find ways to reduce those numbers.

Rest easy; the TIFIA program allows flexibility in how loans proceeds are paid. Prior to the loan signing, “the Thruway Authority sold $1.6 billion in five-year bonds, at a 2.2 percent interest cost, on Wall Street,” Conybeare said. “It won’t draw on the proceeds until 2019, and won’t have to start repaying the TIFIA loan until five years after that.”

The loan closing is “another big step forward. This is great news that will create momentum in 2014 for this major job creator and infrastructure project,” Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland), the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, commented.

Construction on the New NY Bridge began in October; test pilings and other pre-construction activities have been underway since earlier this year with temporary work platforms along the Westchester and Rockland shorelines reducing the need for dredging.

RBA President/CEO Al Samuels, who has championed for a newer, safer bridge during the past 15 years, said it couldn’t have happened sooner.

“There are people in the building trades who weren’t working a year ago, and who are now employed with the project,” Samuels said. And while “a majority of the work force involved in the bridge is in construction this year, next year they may come from a different work force.”

Mass transit talks have been discouraging, causing him to back away.

“We never heard about a Port Chester to Suffern, ride, only one from Suffern to Port Chester,” Samuels emphasized. “Rocklanders don’t want a bus to take them to White Plains to shop, because we have the Palisades Center. We need commercial expansion, and we also need a transportation mode to get people to work here.”

TZC is using the old Journal News plant on Route 303 in Clarkstown as a temporary home for the NYSP and NYSTA maintenance facilities (its current building in Tarrytown will be razed). It also leased the NRG site (former Lovett power plant) in Stony Point for construction staging and loading supplies onto barges, and has offices at three Tarrytown locations.

My article originally appeared in the Rockland County Times December 22, 2013.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2015

No Tricks, and a Treat: TIFIA Loan Approved

Courtesy of the New NY Bridge

Courtesy of the New NY Bridge

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the federal government said “YES” to up to a $1.6 billion low interest loan for the bridge replacement project.

This amount is the largest in TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan request history — and secures key financing for the project. More than one year ago, the New York State Thruway Authority requested a $1.5 billion loan; days earlier, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the agency’s long-term bond rating from A+ to A due to concern about potential toll increases.

Its application approved, the state can move forward with the $3.9 billion project.

Project cost shares eligible for TIFIA coverage were previously limited to 33 percent, according to Federal Highway Administration spokeswoman Nancy Singer. If the bridge replacement project is being advanced through the review process based on that percentage, then 33 percent of $3.9 billion is $1.287 billion.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2013

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