“Dismantle the Bridge Shortly After Crossing It.”

The Tappan Zee Bridge should be dismantled and recycled after replacement. In early February the New York Times reported that Governor Cuomo and his staff were examining the prospect of turning the outdated Tappan Zee Bridge into a public park. The idea originally surfaced in 2011 when Greenburg Town Supervisor Paul Feiner suggested that the bridge not be demolished but rather transformed into a green destination in the middle of the Hudson River. This project would be similar to the well received Highline project in Manhattan and the Walkway Over the Hudson linking Poughkeepsie and Highland, New York. Advocates of this project have argued that this conversion of the old in to new will be easier on the environment, provide “green” space and encourage economic growth. Many of these goals are important to the revitalization of the Lower Hudson Valley, however this project would not realistically help meet these goals.
While other repurposing and revitalization projects have been successful in our region, the Tappan Zee Bridge project is not feasible and will only increase our impact on the environment. The environmental impact of maintaining two bridges let alone the second bridge as a park is significant. Removing the bridge via dismantling and recycling helps to reduce the impact on the environment. Realistically most materials that are removed from the deconstruction of large public works projects are appropriately recycled and repurposed. The two most prevalent components of the existing bridge are steel and concrete. Steel is the most recycled resource in the United States and concrete is also heavily recycled and utilized for new roadways and other projects.
While there will be increased activity around the bridge during the dismantling phase, this activity would only be temporary. If both bridges were left intact the amount of maintenance and possible risks of contamination from these ongoing activities would be doubled. It is also important to note that the goal of turning the old bridge into a park and maintaining it as open space would contribute adversely to the environment.
A bridge is composed of steel and concrete, these materials are inherently incompatible with supporting the variety of flora that would create the park like environment in the middle of the Hudson. In order to transform this bridge there would be large amounts of soil imported to sustain the plant life. With the limited depth of the soil there becomes the need for nutrient replacement in the form of fertilizer as well as constant watering to keep the trees and grass alive. As with any artificially cultivated green space, concerns develop over runoff containing pesticides and fertilizers as well as fresh water consumption of the new plants. Another barrier to converting the bridge into a beautiful park is the amount of crosswind the bridge is subjected to. Due to the poor substrate of imported soil, it would be impractical if not impossible to plant trees along this park without the risk of them toppling even during the modest daily wind speeds this bridge receives.
There already exists at least 11,500 acres of green space that already exists in both Westchester and Rockland Counties. The addition of the Tappan Zee “green” space would add a mere 30 acres about three tenths of one percent of the total acreage of green space in the Hudson Valley region. The oft sited argument that this project would provide much needed green space in the region is therefore erroneous.
As a practical standpoint the upkeep of the park lands as well as the bridge superstructure would become an additional fiscal burden on the county and state taxpayers. The original project financing will fund the one time dismantling cost. While it is understood that the cost of redeveloping the bridge as a park would also be incorporated into the project financing, the upkeep costs generally would increase the taxpayer burden. It is inevitable that this Korean War era bridge will need to be dismantled at some point due to degradation of the structure of the bridge. Instead of expending money now to create a project that has an expiration date stamped on it, in the words of the Chinese proverb, we should “Dismantle the Bridge Shortly After Crossing It.”

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