Transit and an Election Year Gambit

Before climate change and, in this part of the country, global warming, the Hudson River would freeze over solid, from Rockland to Westchester. An eighty-year old friend told stories of walking across it, skating over it, and sledding into it.

He also said “friends” of his would drive their cars right off of River Road onto the frozen river, to ostensibly hone their “winter driving” abilities.

That was sixty years ago. There are no fun and games at this river crossing anymore.

The Tappan Zee handles over 150,000 cars per day, deals with an average of three accidents per day, and is operating well over capacity, though the Thruway Authority assures its safety through a rigorous, almost constant, repair program.

It’s one of the most important crossings north of the George Washington Bridge. It was the nearest bridge to NYC that remained open during 9/11, and is critical to the entire New York State Thruway system.

The Tappan Zee is equally valuable to every state east of the river. It’s a primary thoroughfare across the Hudson River, dubbed by some the Eastern Continental Divide, since it’s a 300-mile stretch that cuts off our northeastern neighbors.

With the Governor and President in election year battles, next year for the Governor, this year for the President, I suspect what we are seeing is the collaboration between two re-election candidates who, for different reasons, need to get projects done. The Governor, for example, has a reputation for action to maintain.

But action for the sake of action, rather than action to solve a problem, is worse, and a Tappan Zee that pays lip-service to mass transit is a Tappan Zee that solidifies this region’s reliance on cars, rather than more energy and time-efficient transit.

In fact, “building too quickly — and too cheaply — created some of the bridge’s present-day problems,” notes a Nicole Gelinas article in City Journal. Today’s proposal is not an innovative solution.

I take it as a sign of systemic failure to blame a half-hearted solution on money. If the Governor and the President really believe that mass transit is the way forward, and the communities in Westchester and Rockland are generally supportive of easing congestion with far more efficient ways to travel, how can the discussion be stopped in America by saying “We don’t have the money”?

A creative option is to create a network of northeast states who contribute to this project, making it affordable for individual budgets while acknowledging our mutual benefit, not just New York’s. I’d look to our current President to organize this, being the President who spoke of bridging America’s internal divides.

It’s disappointing to see politicians hide behind “There’s no money” rhetoric. Either it’s said to cover-up a lack of desire or they mean it, in which case it’s a statement of defeat.

For a project this important to the region, how are we squabbling over a few billion when we continue to spend trillions in places much less critical to the average American? Where is our ingenuity, our camaraderie, and our ability to work together to make great projects happen?

I hope I turn out to be wrong and the Governor and President announce some amazing mass transit options.


Michael Maturo, a former Rockland County elected official, is a techno-political consultant out of Brooklyn, NY. His experience includes Microsoft’s Global Board of the Future, Putian University in China, and locally-focused educational and social activism in Los Angeles and New York. Contact Michael.