By Barrett Seaman
Some 37 hours after the blue ribbon was cut, after the band stopped playing and the speechifying was over, after Governor Cuomo and Chick Galella took their ceremonial drive in a spiffy ’55 Corvette and the 800 invited dignitaries climbed back onto the fleet of buses and went ashore, the first few cars finally rolled out under a sliver of moonlight onto the new Mario C. Cuomo Bridge, heading north (really west) towards the Rockland County side. Only then was it official: the $3.98 billion replacement for the “functionally obsolete” Tappan Zee Bridge is now open for business.
For the moment—and for the next few months at least, only four of the Rockland-bound lanes of the new bridge will be in use. Westchester-bound traffic will remain on the south side of the old bridge while Tappan Zee Constructors, the designer/builder of the new bridge, demolishes the landings on either side of the old bridge and connects the new span to land. Sometime in the late fall, all traffic will shift onto the new span and workers will begin to demolish the old Tappan Zee.
When it’s all done, sometime in 2018, there will be four driving lanes and two emergency lanes going in either direction, a 12-ft.-wide “shared use” barrier-protected lane for cyclists and pedestrians, and space left between the two parallel spans of the new bridge for an eventual light rail system.
The new bridge also has a feature the old one sorely lacked: a cross ramp that will connect the two parallel spans, allowing for emergency turnarounds and traffic redirections if necessary.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, widely applauded for championing the project since he took office, presided triumphantly over the opening ceremony, spreading the credit to a variety of officials, four of whom preceded him on the dais: State Thruway Authority Chair and Onondaga County Executive Joanne M. “Joanie” Mahoney, New York State AFL-CIO chief Mario Cilento, Bill Mooney, president of the Westchester County Association, and Congresswoman Nita Lowey.
Receiving the loudest applause—and a standing ovation, however, was Sleepy Hollow’s Pearl Harbor veteran, Armando “Chick” Galella, 96, who was the first to drive across the original Tappan Zee Bridge in a brand new 1955 Corvette, owned by his then-employer, Frank Chevrolet, the local dealership. As the festivities ended shortly past noon, Galella climbed into the passenger seat of an identical vintage ’55 ‘vette while Governor Cuomo took the wheel. The canary yellow classic came from the personal collection of Long Island attorney James Newman.
In his speech, Cuomo noted that Galella “may be the only man in the world who drove the first car over two new bridges over the same river” 62 years apart. Galella, the governor said, “has proven that he is stronger than the steel they used to build that Tappan Zee Bridge.”
Addressing the contingent of middle and high school students from both Sleepy Hollow and Nyack, Cuomo said the new bridge was guaranteed for another 100 years. “This is our investment and our gift to you and to your children,” he told the students.
“It’s an honor to be one of the students at the opening ceremony, said Emma Sylves-Berry, a rising senior at Sleepy Hollow High School, “—just like students from our towns when they finished the Tappan Zee many years ago.”
Effusive in his praise of New York State’s historical daring and vision in pursuing ambitious infrastructure projects from the Erie Canal and the New York City subway system up to this bridge, the governor, a possible 2020 presidential contender, used the opportunity to criticize, albeit indirectly, the Trump administration. While New York rebuilds LaGuardia and JFK airports as well as Penn Station, Trump’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan hasn’t materialized, the governor observed. The mission of the state’s rebuilding effort, he said, was “not to stoke fear but to create jobs.” The 419-foor towers of the new bridge, said the governor, not only reached up but also reached out, connecting with the Statue of Liberty 34 miles to the south. Drawing a fresh round of applause, he said, “We embrace those who choose to enter. We welcome newcomers to the great state of New York.”
Traffic was brisk over the new span during the weekend that followed, the last of the summer before Labor Day. Homeowners living just north of the bridge expressed surprise—and some relief—that it was noticeably quieter than the old rickety Tappan Zee, even though it was closer. Underneath the span, however, the boat and barge traffic will continue apace. “I’ve been involved with the Tappan Zee Bridge issue ever since I became mayor in 2005 and on the Tarrytown Board of Trustees before that starting in 2000,” recalled Tarrytown Mayor Drew Fixell following the ceremony. With nearly a year’s work still to be done, the mayor, along with everyone else along the riverfront, will remain involved until the last vestiges of what is officially the Governor Malcolm Wilson-Tappan Zee Bridge have been removed.
Firsts and Facts on the New Bridge
3.1 miles of bridge
Each of the eight towers at center rise 419 feet from water level—100 feet taller than the old Tappan Zee Bridge.
192 cables tying the bridge deck to the towers support the center span.
Eight lanes (versus seven for the old bridge) plus a 12-ft. wide “shared use” lane for bikes and pedestrians; space left for future rail line.
110,000 tons of 100% American-made steel used in construction.
$3.98 billion, which was a billion dollars lower than the original estimate.
A $1.6 billion federal loan – the largest infrastructure loan in history.
New York State added $1.2 billion gained from penalties incurred by banks during the financial crisis.
$850 million raised by Thruway Authority bonds.
Tolls will remain at $5 for eastbound cars until at least 2020.
All told, 7,000 workers, 100% union members, worked over 9 million hours.
On any given day, 500 men and women are on the job.
764 New York-based businesses, including 219 from Westchester, had contracts on the project.