Where, Oh Where, Should the New Bridge’s Toll Gantry Be?
by Barrett Seaman –
You may recall the Norwegian fairytale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, featuring an ugly troll that threatened to devour any creature that dared cross over his bridge. In the end, the three billy goats vanquished the troll but not without considerable delay and a great deal of angst.
Bridge crossing has become decidedly more civilized since then: ugly trolls have given way to mere monetary tolls, albeit expensive ones, that are not only less threatening but also far less obtrusive. The old manned toll collection plaza that often backed up traffic as it exited the eastern end of the Tappan Zee Bridge is gone, replaced by an overhead gantry supporting cameras and EZ-Pass readers that identify vehicles and bill them later. With no booths or gates to impede them and cameras that can capture information from a vehicle traveling beneath them at 55-miles-per-hour,* motorists using the bridge can now collectively save up to 310,000 hours a year, according to the Thruway Authority.
At present, the toll gantry resides in South Nyack on the Rockland County side of the new bridge. According to the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA), it was moved west temporarily as part of bridge construction staging. The plan has always been to move it back to Tarrytown after the second, southbound span of the bridge opens in late summer.
Greenburgh/Mt. Pleasant State Assemblyman Tom Abinanti thinks that’s a bad idea. He is calling on the Thruway Authority to leave the gantry where it is, asserting that moving it to Rockland in the first place cost approximately $1 million and that “the cost of moving the gantry and equipment to the Westchester side could cost twice as much.
“The money saved should be added to the monies already allocated in a Community Benefits Fund to the riverfront communities impacted by construction and the new motor vehicle/bicycle/pedestrian traffic patterns,” he said. NYSTA originally allocated $20 million to be distributed as grants under its Community Benefits Fund. To date, 50 such grants, valued at more than $18 million have been distributed.
One of those grants (worth $250,000) was awarded to the Village of South Nyack for the purpose of exploring ways to reunite this small, residential community (population 3.500) that was rent asunder when the Thruway and Tappan Zee Bridge were built more than 50 years ago. In their feasibility study, the village’s hired consultants suggested, in effect, that while the Thruway Authority was in the process of reconfiguring aspects of the Tappan Zee corridor, it should revisit early proposals to re-design Exit #10, a sprawling complex of entrance and exit roads connecting I-87/287 with Route 9W that chews up 33 acres that once belonged to South Nyack. The study proposed a far tighter “dumbbell” configuration that would free up land that might better be used for some combination of parklands, commercial districts and/or housing.
Anticipating that the presence of the toll-reading gantry might somehow get in the way of those ambitious (and very long-term) plans, the village of South Nyack asked the Thruway Authority to make sure to move the gantry back to Westchester, as planned. Mayor Bonnie Christian recalls being upset when they were moved there temporarily last year and let NYSTA know that they wanted them gone. “We don’t want to have those gantries here,” she told The Hudson Independent. “We do want to get those 33 acres back.”
Officially, Tarrytown has no objection to taking the gantry back. It will be located entirely on state-owned property and poses neither expense to the village nor any obvious environmental impact. “From our perspective, as far as I know, there’s no particular reason to object to its presence,” said Tarrytown Mayor Drew Fixell. Yet he agrees with Assemblyman Abinanti’s point about the costs involved. “It’s just a seemingly poor use of scarce resources,” added the mayor.
Whether because they want to avoid a conflict with South Nyack or simply because the cost of moving the gantry back to Tarrytown is already baked into their budget, Thruway Authority officials are sticking with their plan to move it later this year. “We made a commitment to move it back,” said NYTA’s Acting Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll. “That’s what we’re going to do.”
*Speed limits at plazas that include cashless toll collection in New York State vary from as low as 5-mph up to “at highway speed” where vehicles can pass through without slowing down beyond the posted speed limit.