Three of the reasons that are most commonly cited for rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge are the current bridge's narrow lanes, no shoulders and high maintenance costs. But what if, instead of paying five billion dollars to replace it, we could get rid of those problems for a few million? Better yet, what if we could avoid them altogether? Fortunately, that's exactly where we are with the Verrazano Bridge.
The Tappan Zee Bridge used to have wider lanes until 1990, when the six existing lanes were squeezed to make room for a seventh. I don't have crash rates going back that far, but if the bridge builders say that the crash rates are due to narrow lanes, then presumably they were lower before. I also haven't been able to find a breakdown of the maintenance costs, but I'm sure the increased wear and tear from 30,000 more car and truck crossings every day has contributed to the increase. I'm also very curious to know how much it costs to run a machine across the bridge every day moving the barrier from one side of the bridge to the other.
As I've argued before, if we want to stop the carnage and save money, why not get rid of the reversible lane and its expensive machinery and widen the lanes again? Furthermore, can we acknowledge that the reversible seventh lane was a bad idea, and shouldn't be done again? Apparently not. Governor Cuomo has decided to build a new bridge, and he and his Thruway and DOT appointees will ignore any proposal to solve these problems that does not involve a new bridge.
That brings us to the Verrazano Bridge, where Cuomo's MTA is proposing to do exactly the same thing, as reported by Ted Mann in today's Wall Street Journal. In twenty years, will we be hearing that this bridge also has high maintenance costs? Will there be a push to replace it with a bigger bridge because it has "an accident rate double the rest of the system"? How much will the Governor want from our tax dollars when that time comes?
When I first heard about this plan for the Verrazano, I was pleased at the prospect of an HOV lane to speed buses from Staten Island to Manhattan. My first thought was, "yeah, they should extend it all the way through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and up Church Street." But there's a big difference between taking an existing car lane for transit, building a new greenfield, elevated or tunnel transit right-of-way, and shoehorning a new lane into an existing road. With the shoehorn approach comes increased carnage and operating expenses. Given the Cuomo Administration's record of "peeing on our backs and telling us it's raining," and the State DOT's history of this tactic on many roads under multiple governors, we can expect that this will mean new showers in the future.
We have to ask ourselves whether the increased capacity offered by an HOV lane (not a dedicated busway) is worth this tremendous cost, in money and in lives. Staten Island leaders should recognize that it will be much safer and cheaper if the MTA takes a lane for the busway, and that a lot more of their constituents will get to work in comfort with a busway than without one.