Tappan Zee Greenway: Great in Theory, Bad in Practical Application

J Philip Faranda April 9, 2012

This past week I had the privilege of attending a Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors Luncheon with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. Among the topics often discussed when Mr Astorino is in the room is the proposed Tappan Zee Bridge Greenway project. The idea is to convert the existing structure from a carrying I-287 over the Hudson to a 3+ mile green park once the bridge is replaced by a new structure. I have to admit, the idea of a unique park over the water like that sounds tantalizing: bike paths, the setting over the water, nature on a cantilever, it all sounds pretty appealing. Mr Astorino explained why he didn't support it, and after hearing him, I am inclined to agree. Among Mr Astorino's concerns about the project were cost to maintain a park, the overall health of the bridge, and other pragmatic concerns. While converting the bridge a park might be a less expensive proposition than the 9 figure estimate to dismantle it, I wonder if the project could truly have any long term efficacy in the Northeast. And a Greenway would not be a low cost proposition by a long shot.  We would then have two bridges to maintain instead of one. You would have to still deal with wind and salt water; cultivate and irrigate the park somehow; provide services, such as plumbing for bathrooms, police, safety and first aid stations; and provide some sort of amenities, like places to eat. And I don't see how the weight of several feet of earth the length of that thing would be less stress than actual traffic. Over time, the long term deterioration of a structure well past it's projected 50 years coupled with the cost of maintaining an artificial, weighty earth surface on top, would probably render the whole thing fiscally unsustainable. But even if I am wrong, I have another large concern. My concern is that the Greenway would be a boondoggle that loses popularity when people learn that the middle of the Hudson is not exactly a pleasant place about 9 out of the 12 months of the year. Be honest: have you ever been out in the middle of the Hudson any month other than July or August? I don't mean February- how about April? Or October? If you have, ask yourself what it would be like 40-80 feet above the water. The span is at the widest part of the Hudson, and for much of its length it is more of a causeway than a bridge for good reason. Take it from a former coxswain: the middle of the Hudson is windy. And cold. With the exception of a few extreme sport enthusiasts, nobody is going to go out on that span in the winter, in the cold, or in the rain. And if the temperature falls below 80 degrees, there won't be many moms wheeling their babes in strollers out there on summer days either. Don't forget, the new bridge will be right next to the old one. So not only will it be crazy windy and cold most of the time, you'll be right next to an Interstate with  nothing but the brackish ambiance of the Hudson to act as a buffer. Now imagine all that and our taxes supporting it in perpetuity. There might be a few days or weeks in July or August when the wind and traffic ebb that it would be spectacular. But from October to April you wouldn't enjoy it out there. This is the Northeast. If this were the Miami Bridge  or the Tuscon Bridge that would be one thing. But in the Northeast we have cold weather, and the conditions would be pretty much the same out there as they are now. So if the cost isn't  a winning argument against a Greenway, I would posit that quality of experience -or its absence- is. We already have a ton of parks on the banks of the Hudson and we've done an admirable job in recent years of restoring that land for ourselves up and down the river towns. Let's not take our eyes of the ball. Rather than create an artificial greenway of dubious quality, let's do a better job with the green we already have.


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