It’s been more than a decade since the idea of turning the current Tappan Zee Bridge into a park and walkway was first brought up. Last week, the prospect took a significant step towards becoming a reality as Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it “exciting” and said his administration would be exploring whether such a park is feasible.
“What they’re exploring is could you leave it up and turn it into an amenity, a greenway, [like the] High Line in New York City,” Cuomo said, talking to his administration at a Feb. 22 cabinet meeting. “It’s an exciting option that you’re going to be exploring as you go along.”
While Tarrytown resident Jean Schneider first brought up the idea in a 2000 letter to then-Governor George Pataki, Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner and White Plains Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona have taken up the cause since the construction of a new bridge to replace the Tappan Zee was fast-tracked with funding from the Obama administration last year. Until last week, the idea was being advocated by several local officials but hadn’t yet gotten any mainstream backing.
At Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, Director of State Operations Howard Glaser said the state would consider the possibility of a larger-scale version of the Walkway Over The Hudson, a converted railroad bridge connecting Poughkeepsie and Highland.
“We want to analyze what it would take to re-imagine that structure [the Tappan Zee Bridge] as a greenway. Is it feasible? We don’t know the answer to that yet,” Glaser said. “What we know is that today it would cost us over $150 million to demolish the existing structure.”
The proposal has been dubbed the Tappan Bridge Park, and supporters believe in addition to saving money on the cost of demolition turning it into parkland could create a destination for walkers, runners, bikers or those just looking to enjoy the view. The High Line in New York City has been cited as evidence such a project can be successful.
“I think there’s a growing interest in healthy lifestyles in the Hudson Valley, and this would be a great destination for pedestrians and cyclists,” said David McKay Wilson, president and executive director of Bike Walk Alliance of Westchester & Putnam. “It would actually draw people from the region and around the world. It would be a tourist attraction.”
Lecuona said she wrote to the Cuomo administration about the Tappan Bridge Park and received a letter back in January thanking her for her suggestion.
“I took it as a very polite, very smart and polite letter that the governor is sending to somebody who is contacting him,” she recalled. “Then when he came out publically a month later, I realized that the letter was more than that.”
Feiner believes turning the bridge into a park would be a boon to the region and a revenue producer for the state.
“A Tappan Bridge Park will be good for tourism, great for the local economy, very helpful to businesses in Westchester and Rockland and lots of fun,” he said in an e-mail. “It will also be great for property values—lots of people will want to live near the best bridge park in the world!”
The next step, officials say, is a feasibility study. Figuring out what to do with the current bridge after the new bridge is built will likely be an afterthought as officials decide how to move forward on replacing a bridge well past its expected lifespan. Lecuona said she’s okay with that and that plans for the Tappan Bridge Park needn’t interfere with construction or planning of the new bridge.
“Our first goal was to have this possibility be included in their agenda,” she said. “Now, ideally what we want to do is to work together with the Cuomo administration in making this happen.”
First opened in 1955, the three-mile Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge is approximately 90 feet wide, meaning it could be turned into approximately 30 acres of parkland over the Hudson River, Lecuona said. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the construction of the new bridge, released in January, made no mention of turning the old bridge into a park but briefly discussed its demolition.
This week, two public hearings on the DEIS will be held. The first will be held Tuesday at the 4th Floor Community Rooms at the Palisades Center in West Nyack; the second will be held at the Grand Ballroom at the Westchester Marriot in Tarrytown. On both dates, an open house will be held from 4-9 p.m. while presentations will be held at 5 and 7 p.m.
Cuomo also announced the launch of a new website for the bridge, www.thenewtzb.com.