By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
I was among a group invited by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take part in the opening ceremony for the new bridge, a bridge I will always think of as the Tappan Zee.
It was hard not to be impressed.
The new bridge is nothing short of majestic – a glistening span that connects the world to Rockland County and promises to help secure our reputation as a top-notch place to live, work and visit.
The nearly $4 billion project – the largest infrastructure project in the nation – is a monumental achievement for all involved, including the governor.
He was the one who pushed to get the project off the ground after years and years of talk that all ended with the same conclusion: the old Tappan Zee was a wreck waiting to happen and could no longer reliably serve the area. And he deserves to be congratulated for his efforts.
It’s been a couple of days since the westbound span has been open and bringing people from Westchester into Rockland County.
We look forward to the day when the second span will take people from Rockland County to Westchester.
But this project is far from over – especially for those of us here in Rockland County.
And even while we celebrate this impressive accomplishment, we note the 800-pound gorilla in the room: tolls.
We still don’t know how much it is going to cost every time someone crosses from Rockland to Westchester.
Gov. Cuomo has promised not to raise the tolls until 2020. But who knows what will happen after that?
One thing is sure – any increase in the crossing fees would hurt our residents, businesses and future economic growth in the region.
Simply put: A huge toll increase is simply unacceptable.
This has been my position from the first time the idea of a replacement bridge was mentioned.
We cannot make it prohibitively expensive – say $15 – to cross the Hudson River.
What Westchester residents be willing to shell out $15 to shop at the Palisades Center mall? Or will they stay on the east side of the river, spending their dollars instead in Westchester at the numerous malls in White Plains or at Ridge Hill Shopping Center in Yonkers or even in Fairfield County, Connecticut?
Putting obstacles in the way of attracting people to Rockland County will have a wide-ranging negative economic impact.
The Palisades Center in West Nyack produces 23 percent of our sales tax revenue. Any dip is going to inflict pain and cause either a cut in services or higher taxes.
There are other ways to pay for the new bridge.
For years, Tappan Zee toll dollars have made up one-third of the revenue for the New York State Thruway, which reaches to the Canadian border , far from Rockland County.
Now we have every right to expect the financial support of the rest of the Thruway Authority to help pay for and maintain the new bridge in our backyard.
I fought for years to stop our bridge toll dollars from subsidizing the state waterways – particularly the upstate canals.
Just last year, the state did it, shifting responsibility for New York canals and a more than $100 million annual operating deficit from the Thruway Authority to the state Power Authority.
I have long proposed that the Governor, already a strong proponent of shared services, combine the Thruway and Bridge authorities.
Let’s allocate those savings toward the new bridge.
The Lower Hudson Valley has historically been shortchanged when it comes to transit. Just look at the value gap between what we pay the MTA and the limited service we get in return.
And we’re still waiting for the Lower Hudson Transit Link although we were pleased earlier this month to learn that the state has committed financing for the Westchester portion of the bus route from White Plains to Port Chester.
The first phase will start in a year with service from Suffern, over the bridge into Tarrytown and White Plains.
The fully opened new bridge will serve as an economic boom to our region. Unless the tolls are prohibitively expensive.
The Tappan Zee is NOT a “downstate bridge” and it is not a New York City bridge. It is a vital link for the people and businesses of Rockland County.
A double-digit toll is not warranted and will not stand.
I will continue to advocate, in collaboration with my Lower Hudson Valley county executives, to keep the tolls reasonable so we can keep growing our economy.