By Associated Press and Brooklyn Daily Eagle staff
The state on Monday killed plans for rail service and fixed bus lanes over a new Tappan Zee Bridge, dooming Rockland, Westchester and Putnam counties to countless generations of auto-dependence.
Under intense pressure by construction unions to get the $5.4 million project under way, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council voted as expected, unanimously approving replacement of the decrepit mid-Hudson River span.
The county executives of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam, who all sit on the board, last week crushed the hopes of mass transit when declaring that they would fall in line and vote in favor of the project. They did not attend Monday's meeting, however, but sent representatives to vote on their behalf.
Each of the three in effect held veto power because the council must approve a project unanimously to qualify it for federal funds.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had garnered support from other officials but the three county executives — Rob Astorino of Westchester; Scott Vanderhoef of Rockland and MaryEllen Odell of Putnam — had expressed some doubts about the new bridge, principally over its lack of a full-scale mass transit component.
Under the current plan, the bridge will have a dedicated bus lane during rush hours but ambitious plans for a commuter rail line or bus mass transit were dropped for what state officials maintain were financial reasons.
Howard Glaser, director of state operations, called the vote "an important step forward."
"There's been 10 years of study, hundreds of public meetings, and finally we'll begin to move forward," Glaser said. "The bridge is outdated, it's unsafe. Residents of Westchester and Rockland and Putnam deserve better, and it's an important economic lifeline for all of New York State."
The existing bridge, spanning the Hudson River between Westchester and Rockland counties, is overcrowded and deteriorating after more than 55 years of use.
The environmental group Riverkeeper on Friday criticized officials for giving only three days' notice for the vote on the new bridge. In a statement Monday, Riverkeeper called the vote "a major departure from past promises of transparency and inclusiveness."