Swimming in cost

Steep price of new Tappan Zee Bridge a big concern

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Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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I do not know how the city of New York functioned without twin reflecting pools.


I mean, let’s face it, America’s closest thing to the center of the universe has a world of problems to sift through and sort out. Every so often, you need to be taken by a body of tranquil water and—reflect.


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be soaking his brain at the site of the 9/11 Memorial these days. The financial problems of the Big Apple’s infrastructure alone does plenty to drown the thought process, and Cuomo is doing his best not to lose consciousness through all the head spinning.


At the center of his transportation universe is the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee Bridge project. Cuomo has spent the better part of the last year struggling to wring out solutions.
First there was the possibility of using pension funds, and the latest calls for the state to approve legislation allowing public-private partnerships.


In mid-March the New York State Thruway Authority unveiled its plan for the new Tappan Zee Bridge and stressed the need for the structure to be strong enough to support bus and rail services to be added at a later date. Making the bridge transit-ready could double the current $5.2 billion tag.


The bridge is already expected to be double the width of the current one, with enough room for a special lane for walkers and bikers. Cuomo also wants the bridge to be able to compete aesthetically with some of the other more famous spans that line the landscape, and there are plans for variable message boards to be installed and three high-speed E-ZPass lanes.


This is shaping up to be one of the greatest engineering feats of our time, and it has produced a steady stream of news updates.


Still, I can’t help but cringe when another story comes along carrying the Tappan Zee name. Why? Because it is usually associated with another price embellishment. I’m feeling increasingly uneasy about this process with every passing day.


Cuomo’s aesthetically pleasing plea is the cause for most of my concern. The sight of the current bridge could crack the most tolerable of camera lenses, but if those in power want all the extras—the ability to take on mass transit, bike and pedestrian lanes, high-speed electronic tolling—should there be the pressure to be pretty?


According to the New York State Thruway Authority, the public will be able to weigh in on what it wants out of a new Tappan Zee motor/transit carrier.
If I were a New Yorker the top needs, in no particular order, would be: a bridge with a design life of 100+ years; congestion relief; and something that is not going to make my savings account structurally unsound. The toll to cross the current bridge is $5, so can you imagine what it would cost if they decided to go with a model that would cost in excess of $10 billion? Present that to the taxpayers, and I am willing to bet they would settle for a concrete deck with some modest accents.


As for looks, the current bridge is a steel truss covered in beams running every which way. Eliminating the enclosed look would be nice, but a simple concrete structure would suffice. I guess what I am asking for is some value engineering, instead of more structural indulgences.


If Cuomo can find a private investor to take on a bulk of the expense, then he is entitled to do whatever he wants. However, if he expects motorists to spot him billions he might want to look at other sources of revenue. There are a couple of reflecting pools. They must generate about a $100 in change every week. R&B

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