December 5, 2014
South Nyack and the New NY Bridge Shared-Use Path:
A Chronology of Events
Village of South Nyack Tappan Zee Bridge Task Force
Ever since the State said they were constructing a pedestrian and bicycle path on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, South Nyack elected officials and residents have expressed concern that the Shared Use Path would be burdensome, hazardous and expensive for Village residents unless it was planned in way that allowed South Nyack to accommodate the path’s visitors.
The original TZB/I287 corridor plan included widening I287 as it passes through South Nyack in order to accommodate mass transit. That plan would have required a total redesign and reconstruction of the Exit 10 interchange freeing up land. Village officials realized that this could provide an opportunity for South Nyack to leverage that redesign to bring substantial benefits to South Nyack and the river villages region.
Shrinking Exit 10 and decking over the Thruway would provide a new village center that could be a basis for economic development for the Village, alleviating the heavy tax burden on residents. It would also be a more rational place for the terminus of the new shared-use path (SUP). Connecting the path to our new village center would provide a place to accommodate parking away from residential neighborhoods. It could also be a place where services could be provided to visitors that might bring new revenue to the Village.
That vision came to be known as the “Village of South Nyack Economic Sustainability Initiative”. The Village began to lobby the Thruway to collaborate with us to plan to incorporate our vision into the corridor plans and we began to seek funding for a feasibility study. The Village’s vision was supported by all our local representatives. In March of 2011 Rockland County specifically recommended studying the plan in the County’s Comprehensive Plan. In February 2012 the proposal to conduct a feasibility study was adopted into the Federal government’s Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). In February of 2014, the Governor’s Mass Transit Task Force endorsed studying the initiative.
In the fall of 2011 Governor Cuomo decided to segment the project and focus only on replacing the bridge. The plans for the New NY Bridge included widening the Thruway only to South Broadway and proposed totally replacing the South Broadway overpass and the taking of six homes by eminent domain. The overpass redesign was made without any input from the Village.
The Thruway was required by state and federal law to conduct a thorough environmental review of the impacts of the new bridge. In the Environmental Impact Statement the Thruway maintained that the SUP was for non-vehicular transportation purposes only. There was no consideration that it might become a tourist attraction. The EIS did not include any studies on how many people would be expected to use the SUP, where they would park, what services they would need, or any of the many other impacts the path would have on South Nyack.
During this environmental review process South Nyack made extensive explicit comments about the severe impacts the SUP and overpass replacement would have on the Village. We continued to stress that its effects on South Nyack needed serious consideration. We continued to maintain that smart planning required the Thruway to collaborate with South Nyack to make the path successful for South Nyack. The people preparing the EIS dismissed our concerns and asserted that there would be no negative impacts on South Nyack. The Trustees considered taking legal action, but the expense of a legal challenge against the State and Federal Government by a little village was way more than South Nyack could afford.
When the project was reduced to just the bridge the project plans showed the SUP terminating at the new South Broadway overpass. The path was proposed to come off of the bridge and stay elevated as it paralleled the highway past Bradford Mews and Smith Avenue. The path was shown to terminate up on the South Broadway overpass. The Village pointed out problems with this proposal. The path ended on a vehicular overpass unfriendly to pedestrians. It had no connection to the Esposito Trail. And there were still no provisions for visitor parking or facilities.
We still had no success in securing funding for our feasibility study. Since the project was scaled back, the Thruway had no interest in discussing anything having to do with Exit 10. The Mayor and Trustees felt the Village needed to consider what we might have to do to accommodate the path while we continued to pursue our long-term vision.
The Thruway agreed to meet with us to explore possible solutions to issues. We started to develop several alternatives including different overpass designs or possibly adding pedestrian-friendly elements to the overpass and routing the path towards Elizabeth Place Park with a connection up to the Esposito Trail. There were many trade-offs to consider.
In May 2012 the Thruway abruptly changed their plans. We were told that the bridge engineers had figured out a way to transition traffic onto the new bridge without needing to replace the South Broadway overpass. With no input from the Village, the SUP was now shown to no longer be elevated, but to parallel the highway at grade level, take a sharp northward turn just before South Broadway, and end at the dead end of Smith Avenue. Village officials immediately recognized that this location was very problematic. Smith Avenue is a quiet, residential dead-end street.
The scaled back plan also meant that the Thruway was no longer going to take six properties by eminent domain as first proposed. Several of the affected homeowners were upset with this decision by the state. They expressed that ever since their properties were targeted for taking, it became nearly impossible for them to be sold on the open market. They asked that the Thruway proceed with the takings, to ensure they got a fair deal. The Thruway said they could not legally proceed with eminent domain because the properties would no longer be directed for a public use. Instead they persuaded Tappan Zee Constructors to offer to purchase the properties in private transactions. One property owner decided to keep their house. Two accepted offers from TZC. The remaining homeowners have maintained that the TZC offers are inadequate, in that they do not offer the same guarantees that an eminent domain taking would.
In February 2013 the Village Trustees appointed a task force of volunteer village residents, Planning Board Chairman Jerry Ilowite; former County Legislator Connie Coker; and Richard Kohlhausen, a local businessman and Chairman of the Nyack Hospital Board of Directors. The Task Force was asked to be the liaison between the Village and the New NY Bridge Team.
In late 2013 the New NY Bridge team agreed to meet with the South Nyack Task Force to discuss the SUP terminus. They insisted the SUP would be opened at the completion of the bridge project unconditionally. At that point, the Village still had no funding for our feasibility study and the Task Force felt it was prudent to consider what might be done to handle the SUP traffic and parking if it couldn’t be connected to Exit 10. While we still wanted to ultimately connect the SUP into a future Exit 10 redevelopment, we looked for a possibly acceptable interim plan. We felt we had to try to get the path and parking as close to Exit 10 as possible.
Working with the New NY Bridge team, we considered a plan to bring the path out to the corner of Cornelison Avenue and South Broadway with a small parking lot where Village Hall is. We felt this compromise would get the terminus away from the middle of a residential area to at least the edge of one. Using the Village Hall site for parking would provide at least some off street parking without taking of any more residential properties. Lastly, the State would have to find us a new location for Village Hall. The Village has been interested in getting better river access for the residents. One possibility would be to use state funding to purchase the Olson Center from Living Christ Church and use it for a new Village Hall, Police Headquarters, and Community Center.
Throughout our talks, many concepts were discussed, but never finalized. While this plan was still in the conceptual stage, we wanted to get feedback and input from the Trustees and residents. The concept was presented to the Trustees in January 2014 and then to the public in March.
Before the plan was even presented to the public, the Task Force was surprised to learn that the Thruway had gone ahead with an eminent domain taking of a portion of the Wisner property for extending the path to Cornelison. The Village never gave any direction or approval to the Thruway to do the taking, since we did not yet have any resident input or support and we didn’t have any firm plan to relocate Village Hall. From discussions with the New NY Bridge team, the Task Force was under the mistaken impression that the Wisners had reached an acceptable agreement to sell their property.
At the public meeting in March many residents highlighted problems with the plan. Neighborhood residents thought the terminus and parking would still overwhelm their neighborhood. Many were concerned that adding pedestrian traffic to the intersection would be much too dangerous, since it includes a Thruway entrance ramp. Residents expressed that we shouldn’t accept an interim solution and the Task Force should try harder to find a way to move the terminus and parking into the Exit 10 area.
After the meeting, the Trustees added two additional members to the Task Force, Nancy Willen, retired Clarkstown Highway administration, and Greg Toolan who is an IUOE Local 15D surveyor.
The Task Force asked the New NY Bridge team to consider alternatives that would terminate the path at Exit 10 and provide a better connection to the Esposito Trail and routes to downtown Nyack. The New NY Bridge team said they received several suggestions from residents and would examine them. One of the ideas was to build a parking lot along the Franklin Street overpass. Task Force member Greg Toolan proposed a plan to re-purpose the current South Broadway entrance ramp for pedestrians and use the existing 9W overpass for parking. It would re-route northbound 9W away from the ramp loop and add a traffic circle in Exit 10 to maintain all Thruway entrances and exits.
We were still, though, concerned that if the terminus remained at Cornelison, human nature would make people still try to park on Village streets near the entrance. We asked the New NY Bridge team to find a way to move the terminus into Exit 10. The Mayor also formed a parking task force to explore formulating new parking regulations to defend the neighborhood and Village.
There was still no consensus on estimates of how many visitors could be expected to use the new SUP. The notion that the path would be used only for transportation was now belied by the fact that the design included lookout points (known as belvederes) with placards about local points of interest. Some people thought thousands of people would visit it, like at the Walkway Over the Hudson or New York City’s High Line. Others thought it would be so unattractive that no one would use it. We again asked the New NY Bridge team to conduct a professional study to estimate usage.
The New NY Bridge team originally promised to present alternatives for residents to consider in June. They then said their engineers needed more time and postponed the public presentation. As the summer passed the Mayor continued to press the New NY Bridge team for a commitment to a date.
At a meeting in November 2014 with the Task Force, the New NY Bridge team showed the Task Force the results of their usage study. The study suggested that South Nyack would need parking for an average of 54 cars. The Task Force asked for some more details on the study, including what the peak needs would be.
However, at that meeting the New NY Bridge team representatives made it clear that they were moving ahead with the SUP terminus at Cornelison, insisting that terminating it at Exit 10 isn’t practical and would be too expensive. They wanted to limit the presentation to the public to the one plan for parking at the Franklin Street overpass, with the rest of the presentation merely variations of this concept or of on-street parking. They did not want to present any of the more ambitious plans to the public because they said they could never happen.
The Mayor and Task Force were very disturbed by the attitude of the New NY Bridge team’s representatives. The feeling was that the State was bullying South Nyack to accept their judgment as to what was acceptable rather than allow South Nyack to decide what is best for our village.
The number one concern of the Mayor, the Trustees, and the Task Force has been the safety and welfare of South Nyack’s residents and the sustainability of our village. While many concepts have been discussed we have yet to see anything from the State that adequately addresses the issues we have raised.
The Mayor has called Governor Cuomo’s office and requested a meeting to discuss the situation.