JIM FITZGERALD | Associated Press
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has won the support of three key county executives for his plan to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge in the New York City suburbs.
County executives Rob Astorino, of Westchester; Scott Vanderhoef, of Rockland; and MaryEllen Odell, of Putnam, said Thursday that they will vote in favor of the project at the next meeting of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council.
Each of the three in effect held veto power because the council must approve a project unanimously to qualify it for federal funds.
Cuomo has been gathering the support of dozens of other officials in the past couple of weeks, but the three county executives had expressed some doubts about the $5.2 billion bridge plan, principally over its lack of a full-scale mass transit component.
Under the current proposal, 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 financial reasons, although the bridge is to be capable of handling them.
Astorino has said he feared that without mass transit, the bridge would be outmoded from its first day.
"I have been a strong supporter on the need for a new bridge but I've been equally strong on the need for some form of mass transit as a way to reduce congestion and pollution," he said.
Cuomo had agreed to the formation of a task force that will make mass transit recommendations within a year, he said.
"Mass transit will not be an afterthought in the building of the bridge," he said. "With plans to have mass transit as part of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, we're not waiting five years to start thinking about it, we're moving forward now."
The existing bridge, spanning the Hudson River between Westchester and Rockland counties, is overcrowded and deteriorating after more than 55 years of use.
Cuomo issued a statement saying he was pleased the county executives "are pledging to vote for our plan to build a safer, transit-ready bridge that will reduce congestion, provide a dedicated bus lane, and create tens of thousands of jobs."
The county executives' announcement also said the governor agreed to the creation of a "working group" of officials to keep tolls low. Cuomo aides have said the toll, currently $5, would jump to $14 on the new bridge, but Cuomo said last week that's too high.