What Does the Tappen Zee Tell Us About the CRC?

East coast transportation geeks have been left with their jaws hanging, wondering what happened to the Tappen Zee Bridge project.

The project, which might once have been an example of a better way to do a mega-project, was scoped to add Commuter Rail and BRT to a highway corridor.

But co-incident with the project being selected for “expedited Federal Review” the transit and rail components have been mysteriously removed. More shocking, no one will own responsibility for the decision.

Which makes one wonder what ODOT and USDOT might conspire to do with the Columbia River Crossing? And would Metro even notice?

7 Comments

7 Responses to What Does the Tappen Zee Tell Us About the CRC?

  1. EngineerScotty
    October 25, 2011 at 12:20 am Link

    Interesting.

    This past month, the Obama administration has granted “expedited federal review” to 14 infrastructure projects around the country; six of which are transportation-related. Two of those are transit projects:

    * Baltimore’s Red Line
    * The Crenshaw/LAX line in Los Angeles

    The other transportation-related projects are the Tappan Zee, a replacement for the Whittier Bridge in Massachusetts, a highway project in Utah, and an aviation-related project in Houston. (Eight other projects include environmental, utility, and housing/land-use projects).

    Exactly what “expedited federal review” means, other than slashing of red tape, I’m not entirely sure–but it appears to be a way of shutting down NIMBY and other activist opposition to projects that have widespread political support.

    Whether it could be used to advance the CRC, in particular a version of the project short of transit components, I don’t know. A big difference between the CRC and the Tappan Zee is that none of the governmental agencies involved in the TZB seemed to care about the transit component, and certainly none have been willing to fight for it. Metro is certainly willing to build the CRC as currently proposed, but whether they would still support the bridge without transit, I don’t know–several councilors, including council president Hughes, I suspect, would likely go in that direction. The bigger question mark is the city of Portland; which considers the alternative transportation components a prerequisite for building the bridge–could Portland’s objections be swept aside? My limited understanding of expedited review is that it is available when local authorities agree on a project but activists object (and are throwing up roadblocks)–a major stakeholder opposing such a maneuver would be a different issue altogether.

    There’s one other wrinkle in this, too. New York State’s political culture is infamously corrupt, and there have been rumblings that the New York State Thruway Authority, who owns the current bridge and operates the state’s toll highway backbone, might well regard any transit component on the bridge as competition–in other words, the thruway commission might prefer it if people stay in cars and pay a $5 (or greater toll) than take the bus or train across (Unlike the CRC, which has the Glenn Jackson nearby, there’s no other crossing of the Hudson for many miles). That dynamic does not seem to be at all in play with the CRC; neither state DOT seems to view tolling as a potential revenue source beyond construction costs.

  2. Chris Smith
    October 25, 2011 at 12:26 am Link

    I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek. If an attempt was made to eliminate the transit component of the CRC, TriMet would scream bloody murder, and I think even the Metro Council might get excited.

    But I do wonder how ODOT is going to try to navigate the funding logjam they are now beginning to encounter.

  3. EngineerScotty
    October 25, 2011 at 12:33 am Link

    I think it’s a somewhat legitimate concern. As noted in the open thread, quite a few heavy-hitters in the anti-transit lobby are getting involved against the CRC. I’m rather certain that their goal isn’t to shut it down; merely to strip it of anything other than asphalt.

    But again, the politics here are different than the politics in the Empire State. No matter how bad our Albany may stink, the one in New York stinks far worse–and not from any paper mill. :)

  4. dwainedibbly
    October 25, 2011 at 5:36 am Link

    I don’t think we need a crystal ball to figure out what is about to happen….

  5. Chris I
    October 25, 2011 at 7:38 am Link

    Metro, Portland, and Trimet would scream bloody murder if they tried that here. I’m pretty sure you would have people sabotaging constructions and blocking lanes on I-5. There are many active transit and public transit proponents here that would not allow the same thing to happen.

  6. Douglas K.
    October 25, 2011 at 9:10 am Link

    I almost wish the state DOTs would try. Dumping the transit component might be enough to kill the entire project.

  7. Anandakos
    October 31, 2011 at 11:27 pm Link

    I think the project is dead anyway. Does anyone here actually believe that John “Sell the NEC” Mica is going to fund a project to link the Peoples’ Soviet of Washington to the Wobblies in Oregon?

    Nope. It’s a very good thing that the bridge piers are made of so much concrete; the steel inside is probably still dry and sound, even on the 1918 span. It’s good because we’re going to be driving across them for another twenty years.

    By then, when gasoline is $25/gallon and a new hybrid car costs 150K New American Dollars, people will say, “Ah hell, just build the damn train!”

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