Monday, October 22, 2012

Where is the public outrage on the Tappan Zee Project?

The version of the below letter appeared recently in the Journal News. This was written by Elyse Knight, Piermont resident and former Honorary Secretary of the Tappan Zee Preservation Coalition.

At the two dozen-plus Thruway meetings I’ve faithfully attended over the last decade or so regarding the Tappan Zee Bridge project, I and my fellow concerned citizens commented on the various “stories” that we were told to justify replacing the existing bridge. We heard about marine borers eating the pilings (they don’t exist in these waters). We heard about the so-called planned obsolescence ofthe current bridge – the “it was only built to last 50 years” myth (turns out to becompletely untrue, a lie, by the Thruway’s own admission). We heard about the bridge's unfitness to survive an earthquake (by the way, none of the Metro area bridges are. And they stopped talking about that when we pointed out that if earthquakes are a concern, Indian Point poses a greater danger than the bridge).  Now, it seems, they’ve eliminated the one original driving force behind the project: to reduce traffic congestion through the Rockland Westchester corridor. The previously urgent need for commuter rail or bus rapid transit has been completely scrapped. Transit options will become a mere footnote if the Cuomo machine has its way. All we'll get is a bridge—two, actually, each wider, taller than and no doubt just as congested as the one we have now. Governor Cuomo has coerced our local representatives with mysterious, opaque methods and incentives into signing on to his personal pet project, his new bridges. They are bridges to nowhere except more stalled traffic, more bad air, destroyed scenic vistas, gridlocked River Towns, damaged Hudson River ecosystems, and untenable noise for the Hudson Valley.

They have completely discarded other options for which the public has consistently expressed support: to rehabilitate the existing bridge or replace it with a tunnel.  They've also disregarded the democratic process put in place to protect the environment and our rights as citizens. They’ve scrapped all the public comments which were purportedly collected during the 12 years of scoping meetings we all attended, expressing our concerns over air quality, the Hudson, our communities,traffic, transit options, costs, and noise. Now the Cuomo administration has thrown all of that public input into the dumpster. Instead of listening to us, and coming up with the best solution for all of our concerns, they are shoving these humongous new bridges down our throats, ignoring requests for an extension to resubmit our comments, and coercing our representatives into signing off on it. Where is the outrage? One local official I spoke with told me in confidence that dealing with this Cuomo administration is like dealing with the mafia.

Never mind that what they are proposing is illegal. It’s called segmentation: you can’t divide a huge project like this one into two or more separate projects, with two separate environmental reviews. They are telling us, "First we’ll build the bridge, making it 'transit ready,' then, one fine day when the economy is flush with money, we’ll consider putting some buses on there for you." That’s not good enough. They need to share with us the design they’ve chosen (the comment period has closed but we don’t even know what they are planning!), they need to give us full analysis of alternatives like rehabbing the existing bridge or a tunnel, what sort of transit there will be, what property they will be taking, where they will be widening the Thruway and where they will put the bus/train stops. They need to tell us what the impacts will be on traffic, air quality and noise; on local roads and in our communities; and on the Hudson and all its wildlife and fish. Instead, they are planning to do what they planned to do all along with or without our input or consent: build a bigger, wider bridge, with no transit. Guess what’s next? Not public transit, but a widening of the Thruway from Nyack to Suffern. They’ve already done the work on the Westchester side.

So when we visit the TZ Bridge project website, I, and all my fellow Hudson valley residents and public advocates, will never find any evidence of the work we did in good faith to protect our homes, our communities, the Hudson, and the scenic vistas; and we will never have the opportunity to re-submit those opinions, questions or concerns. Again, I ask, where is the outrage? This is an example of the type of political coercion, lack of transparency and manipulation of public opinion one would expect to find in the Soviet Union. Our “dear leader,” Governor Cuomo has spoken, and everybody had better get on board with his plans, or else. Our local leaders have completely failed us. Let’s make sure they understand that we know they’ve failed us, and demand that our voices be heard.

Elyse Knight
Former Honorary Secretary
The Tappan Zee Preservation Coalition

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