Look: Costs Rise Exponentially for New TZ Bridge Over the Decades

Data from the '30s and '50s shows bridge construction was cheaper back in the day; also, a history of bridge bickering.

Some things never seem to change when it comes to pricey public projects—escalating costs, bitter opposition and contentious views.

Consider the coming new Tappan Zee Bridge: plenty of people presume the saga began in the 1950s, when the existing bridge first opened. But the effusive ruckus goes back to at least the 1930s, when it was proposed that viaducts in Tarrytown and Nyack be connected by a sunken tube.

And it didn’t take long for divisiveness to erupt.

Objections to the Hudson River span included intense opposition to shrinking the size of the navigable channel for shipping vessels. Residents worried that the heavy tide would force large ships to navigate through dangerous waters, creating a possible hazard for both bridge and boats.

Paul Windel, president of the Regional Plan Association, opposed building a crossing at the widest part of the Hudson—and declared the proposed span a “freak design never before attempted in a structure of this length,” according to a New York Times story in the '30s.

Although many motorists were chomping at the bit for a more efficient Hudson crossing that skirted New York City traffic congestion, locals were not too happy. South Nyack in particular had much to gripe about in the 1930s, since the village was about to be obliterated.

Still, commuters wishing to cross the Hudson were ferry-dependent prior to bridge construction. But the ferries didn’t run throughout the night—and forget about crossing during the winter, when the river was replete with ice floes.

After considering both tunnel and bridge options, the Rockland-Westchester Hudson River Authority opted to pursue the bridge option. Proponents claimed motorists would welcome a new Hudson River crossing, thereby eliminating the congestion at ferry crossings, and traffic on Boston Post Road.

Down-state travelers headed to the New England seashore would be able to avoid the confusing network of NYC traffic, too.

Eventually, the War Department approved the span, dubbed the Nyack-Tarrytown Hudson River Bridge.

But the bridge was never constructed. 

The battle over the bridge escalated into near warfare over the course of the '30s. Questions from Grand View residents over the viability or sense of building a bridge at such a wide point of the Hudson constantly arose. Residents suggested that a shorter bridge could be constructed further south.

Governor Herbert Lehman even received a telegrap, signed by hundreds of Nyack protesters citing why the bridge should be relocated, according to period reports. The leader of the citizens’ organization, Elmer Hader, suggested that he was soon to add famous stage actresses—and local area residents—Katharine Cornell and Helen Hayes as telegram signatories.

And then things snowballed. It wasn’t long before the Hudson River Conservation Society, the village of South Nyack and residents from both Westchester and Rockland joined the fray. Opponents of the bridge even went so far as to hold a protest in a ferry, mid-Hudson, according to the New York Times.

The nautical protesters eventually passed a resolution asserting that the bridge construction was a “flagrant disregard of principles of natural conservation,” according to the Times.

In November of 1936, the Tarrytown-Nyack Bridge Authority abandoned the project, claiming they would pursue a nearby location at a future date. Their reasons: excessive constructions costs (building estimates rose from $7 million to at least $10 million), and construction difficulty (particularly with anchoring the foundation in bedrock).

End of story? 

Not quite—enter the 1950s.

Buzz regarding bridge construction arose again in 1950, with the initial suggestion of a span just south of Dobbs Ferry. Plans accelerated in early 1951 when Robert Moses, the famed urban planner, emerged as a huge supporter for a new Hudson River bridge. 

But again, a bitter dispute arose as protesters and supporters aired their respective viewpoints. Still, it didn’t take long for Governor Thomas Dewey to sign a bill clearing the way for construction of a bridge estimated at $50 million.

By 1952, the projected price for steel was alone was $37 million, and there were no bidders on the construction of the bridge design, due to its complexity.

Even the name of the bridge posed controversy. Several of the names bantered about included names such as the Thomas Dewey or George Clinton (both one-time governors of New York), the Tarrytown-Nyack Bridge and the Headless Horseman Bridge.

But an earlier suggestion of Tappan Zee—as that part of the Hudson was known—prevailed. In the mid-90s, it was officially renamed the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge.

The Tappan Zee officially opened in December 1955 with a toll of $.50. The new toll is expected to be $14.

Kevin Zawacki February 05, 2013 at 03:41 PM
I'm curious as to what caused such a tremendous uptick in the cost. Higher wages? Pricier materials? Or maybe just waste.
Bob February 05, 2013 at 04:09 PM
Good history lesson.
JM February 05, 2013 at 10:57 PM
Too bad tunnels weren't favored back then. So odd they never considered a bridge crossing just north of Nyack and over to vacant (at the time) area at Philipse Manor, then down what became Saw Mill. By today it would have simply meant 287 was north a bit and save Tarrytown the headache. Nonetheless, as you say, some things never change. No forethought, no planning -- that is our motto in the U.S. Fast, furious, move on and never look back. This new hideous thing stretched across the Hudson will cost $1 trillion in the end, the mob will get its share, and the best part of all, it will not be maintained and need to be replaced in 20 years. I'll be dead then, as will most of those planning the bridge now. Maybe that is why folks simply don't care?
RyeDad February 06, 2013 at 01:40 AM


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