This represented a significant increase in the car capacity of the bridge from the current seven lanes. In addition to adding a peak-direction lane and two off-peak ones, it would have widened the lanes from eleven feet to twelve or fourteen, increasing capacity by allowing drivers to go faster without increasing their risk of crashing.
This increased capacity would promote residential and job sprawl at both ends of the bridge, but this was never discussed. It was simply announced on page 21 of the Scoping Update that the bridge would be ten lanes, and none of the Alternatives included anything different.
The build alternatives 3, 4A, 4B, and 4C include a number of common elements. The fundamental differences between the alternatives are the transit modes. The common elements include the following: ... A River Crossing with two HOV lanes, eight general purpose lanes, shoulders and a full-length pedestrian/bicycle path linking Rockland and Westchester.
I've been poking around through the old study documents I can dig up, but I haven't yet found any evidence that there was ever any discussion of how many lanes to put on the replacement bridge.
I've seen estimates of the width of the current bridge that vary from 82 feet to 90 feet, but let's assume it's 82 feet. It contains seven lanes of traffic with no shoulders. That comes out to an average width of 11.7 feet per lane. Considering that one of the goals in the Scoping Packet is "Providing for standard, 12-foot traffic lanes," it would seem that the current bridge is not that far off. The biggest problem is that it doesn't have shoulders for anyone to stop in if they break down.
The Journal News and many other newspapers are reporting that the current plans for the bridge call for it to be eight lanes wide. The scoping document tells a slightly different story, though:
NYSTA would maintain traffic flow across the Hudson River to the maximum extent feasible, even if one of the two bridge spans must be closed. To provide adequate capacity for such short-term traffic operations, a minimum of seven highway lanes would be needed across the river. In order to accommodate this service redundancy, the road deck would need a minimum width of 82 feet to provide for seven, temporary highway lanes in the event that one structure would be inoperable. This minimum dimension would be provided on both of the new spans to achieve this desired feature of the new crossing.
At present, bicycles and pedestrians are prohibited on the Tappan Zee Hudson River crossing although there are existing multi-use trails near the bridge on both sides of the river. To maximize the public investment in a new crossing, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and NYSTA would provide a shared-use
(bicycle/pedestrian) path across one of the spans of the replacement bridge. To meet current design standards for the path and to provide adequate separation from traffic lanes, the Replacement Bridge Alternative must provide a minimum of 12 feet of additional width for the shared-use path (including the path, barrier, and a safety buffer); however, 14 feet is currently planned.
To meet these operational requirements, the EIS will consider a Replacement Bridge Alternative with two spans. The span that includes a shared-use path would be 96 feet wide, and the span that does not include the shared-use path would be 82 feet wide.
If you're paying attention, you'll note that the new bridge will have two spans, each of which can carry the same amount of cars as the current bridge. That means that the bridge could conceivably carry fourteen lanes. What's up with that?
It's true that the Governor has been complaining about the "seven narrow lanes and no safety shoulders" under the current configuration. So we would imagine that the new bridge would have at least twelve-foot shoulders and fourteen-foot lanes, and we still get ten lanes.
Ten lanes might not be so bad, because two of them could be used for buses right away. It's possible, however, to squeeze twelve lanes onto the bridge and still have twelve-foot lanes and an eleven-foot shoulder on each side.
The main thing that I want to know is, what's to prevent the bridge from being used for fourteen lanes? Right now the Thruway Authority could dramatically decrease the number of crashes by reducing the number of lanes on the current bridge from six to seven, with either two six-foot shoulders or one twelve-foot one. They don't do that because the politicians on either side are insisting that car throughput is more important than safety. The current level of congestion, they say, demands seven lanes.
If the "eight-lane" replacement bridge fills up, as Kate Slevin predicts, there will be new demands to put another lane or two on it. If the bureaucrats couldn't say no to increasing this bridge to seven lanes, why would they say no to fourteen?