To be clear, and as I have maintained for years, the construction of a new Tappan Zee bridge is critical to the health, safety, and economics of our County. Too much talk and too little action is a recipe for disaster, especially when we are speaking about a bridge whose shelf life is coming to an end. But does that mean we need to blindly accept what is being dished out to this community, particularly as it relates to the cost … and who is going to pay for it.
The proposed $14 toll for the new crossing stunned everyone. Our County Executive’s reported response to the $14 per trip toll for the new Tappan Zee Bridge is “It sounds very expensive. The hope is that it doesn’t go higher.”
My response? – “Unacceptable”. And here’s why.
We need to understand the likely impact of this toll increase on our citizens and local business. In addition to the added cost crunch that you and I will share in simply getting to work, it is my view that we will be driving away substantial business from the one entity that provides nearly 25% of all sales tax revenue to our County – the Palisades Center Mall. We have to acknowledge that a significant number of Westchester residents will not choose to spend $14 to come to Rockland, but rather head over to Westchester’s new regional shopping destination - The Ridge Hill complex in Yonkers. This is a critical Rockland economic issue that has not been adequately discussed.
I choose to question the entire platform of “logic” being offered and urge my neighbors to do the same. Do not buy into the “cost and comparison” arguments being offered.
We are being told “well, we have to pay for it”. OK, fair enough – there is no such thing as a free lunch. But as this bridge is a major component of the entirety of the Thruway system, why is the cost of ensuring its integrity not being spread across the entirety of the system? Why is it that Rockland, the smallest county in the State, is slated to bear the brunt of the entire cost?
And while we are talking about the $5 billion price tag, we are still waiting for a response to the very well researched story by a local print media outlet that establishes the cost of similar spans coming in at UNDER $1 billion. Included are Tampa’s Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge; South Carolina’s Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge; and Louisiana’s John James Audubon Bridge. Even when one factors in inflation and the higher cost of construction here in New York, FIVE times the cost demands a complete response by the planners.
Finally, the true “apples and oranges” comparison of “well the toll will be similar to the Port Authority’s G.W. Bridge and MTA’s NYC bridges” needs to be exposed for the nonsense it is. Let’s get off this political merry-go-round and detail the facts, not excuses.
A significant portion of vehicular tolls collected at Port Authority crossings go to supporting their real estate costs, such as the World Trade Center, and their interests in Stewart International Airport. With respect to the NYC bridges, the lion share of toll collections at these MTA crossings have gone to the NYC Subway System. Much unlike these two agencies, the New York State Thruway Authority, who realizes 94% of its revenue from vehicle tolls, has only one major outside cost factor – the New York State Canal System and its 524-mile inland waterway that spans upstate New York! Yes, you heard that correctly – your tolls are going to support the waterways of the northernmost section of this State. Why? Our illustrious NYS Legislature’s successful effort in 1992 to transfer the cost out of the General Funds funding responsibility to the better hidden funding approach of using revenues collected by tolls on the New York State Thruway.
In May 2006, Governor Pataki proposed recreating the Canal Corporation by 2010 as an independent agency no longer under the oversight of the Thruway Authority. In January 2008, NYS Comptroller DiNapoli highly critical audit offered similar recommendations of the divesting of Canal operations.
My position? Let’s get some accurate answers as to the obvious questions as to the actual cost of building the new Tappan Zee Bridge, and return your toll dollars to the Thruway system by returning the funding for the waterways of New York State to the General Fund. It is bad enough that we already were lied to when the promise of “no more tolls when the bonds were paid off” was broken in 1996. Demand that our State officials sharpen their pencil on the new bridge construction cost; stop the funding of the canal system with your toll dollars by following the sound advice offered already; and recognize the disparate economic impact upon Rockland as the plan is detailed now. Do the hard work necessary to build it right and to fund it properly, for as much as this bridge needs to be built, that should not be an excuse to hose the people of Rockland County.