Restorative Recycling: Tappan Zee Bridge steel may reconnect Mount Vernon, New York

Old steel from the demolished Tappan Zee Bridge in New York may be used to cover the railroad cut that bisects Mount Vernon.

Project Snapshot

  • Project name: Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge
  • Project initiator: New York State Thruway Authority
  • Project value: $3.98 billion
  • Contractor: Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC
  • Completion date: 2018. Eastbound main span steel structure was completed Sept. 2017.

Soon, old steel from the demolished Tappan Zee Bridge may be used to cover the railroad cut that has bisected Mount Vernon, N.Y., since 1901. The “cut” is the below-grade length of tracks now used by the MTA Metro North commuter railroad. The tracks bisect Mount Vernon, disrupting pedestrian and vehicle traffic and making it difficult to travel between the two sections.

Mount Vernon’s cut separates the more well-to-do from its less fortunate citizens. It created what, by the 1970s, were neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Today, the cut is still a socio-economic dividing line, preventing economic development from taking hold, says Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas.  

“It would not only repair a wound, it would create new, seamless open space that could become parkland, pedestrian plazas, or a platform for new development that would create jobs, retail and commercial activity,” Thomas says.

The city (2016 population: 68,344) has proposed using the structural steel from the old Tappan Zee to fill in the cut. “It would be an economically efficient and sustainable way to dispose of the steel while solving a problem that for over 50 years Mount Vernon public officials and citizens have been trying in vain to achieve,” Thomas says. Mount Vernon would also use some of the steel to cover the stretches of the Saw Mill River Parkway that runs through the city, creating a similar economic development barrier and community divide.

One estimate says covering the cut with the scrap steel would cost about $56 million, with the project start date sometime in 2018. Crews have started bridge dismantling operations above the Hudson River by removing large sections of concrete and steel with mobile cranes. Demolition materials are being placed on barges and transported to storage facilities offsite.  

Mount Vernon city officials have reached out to the New York Thruway Authority which will decide on the future disposition of the bridge steel. The city and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York have met to discuss funding for the project.

What’s replacing the old bridge? The New York State Thruway Authority is replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge with a new 3.1-mile twin-span bridge across the Hudson River between Rockland and Westchester counties. Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC is the project contractor.

The $3.98 billion Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge is one of the largest single design-build contract awards for a transportation project in the U.S. Located less than 20 miles north of New York City, the cable-stayed span crosses one of the widest parts of the river and will be the largest bridge in New York State history.

The Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge opened to traffic in 1955 and, until its retirement on October 6, 2017, was an essential artery for residents, commuters, travelers and commercial traffic. Bridge traffic grew to about 140,000 vehicles per day in 2016, way more than the Tappan Zee design capacity. Heavy traffic, narrow lanes and the lack of emergency shoulders on the bridge often spawned unsafe driving conditions. As a result, the bridge had twice the average accident rate per mile as the rest of the 570-mile Thruway system.

Bridge maintenance cost hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. According to experts, the cost of maintaining the Tappan Zee structure for the foreseeable future was about the same as the cost of the new bridge, with no improvements to current traffic conditions. The New York State Thruway Authority retired the bridge on Oct. 6, 2017, after nearly 62 years of service.

“Whether its conventional funding for roads or public transportation, we are falling dangerously behind – from a safety standpoint and an economic standpoint,” the mayor reiterates.

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