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The Tappan Zee study team will hold a series of public meetings this week to explain its recommendation to spend as much as $16 billion to replace the bridge and add mass transit to the Hudson Valley's most heavily traveled corridor.
"It's a fiscal challenge, to say the least," said Michael Anderson, the study team leader. "The (economic) events of the last two months have made this daunting project all the more difficult and perplexing."
The eight-year-old study, which narrowed hundreds of suggestions down to a half-dozen, now will segue into the preparation of a draft environmental impact statement. The team wants to finish the environmental review in two years, begin design in 2010 and start construction in 2012.
Between now and then, the team still has to resolve major issues about the mass-transit components. Its recommendation calls for the new bridge to open with a bus rapid transit system in place from Suffern to Port Chester and for the eventual construction of a new Metro-North Railroad link between the Port Jervis Line in Suffern and the Hudson Line in Tarrytown.
But Anderson said the team has yet to decide who will develop and operate BRT and whether the buses will use special highway and bridge lanes or travel in a separate guideway.
In addition, it has to decide just how "rail ready" to make the corridor and the bridge, since the cost of adding commuter rail alone is $6.7 billion. Stakeholders were skeptical about the value of this investment, especially since a new rail tunnel is being built that will give commuters from Orange and Rockland counties a one-seat ride to Midtown.
Metro-North, however, casts its project as offering commuters another choice of destination in Grand Central Terminal on the East Side rather than a duplication of service to the West Side.
Anderson said "the dilemma of financing" a project of this scale will play a role in the decisions that evolve in the environmental review.
The team's long-awaited financial study will be released soon, but Anderson said the 400-page document is only an assessment of how much money can be raised from what sources, such as the bonding capacity of the New York State Thruway Authority.
"It is not a definite financing proposal for the project," said Anderson. "And it should come as no surprise that there are considerable shortfalls."