It's been a week of milestones for our Federal Highway Administration, covering a wide range of project delivery stages from permitting to ribbon-cutting.
The Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project in New York State got a big boost yesterday as the FHWA signed a record of decision clearing a key hurdle for construction to begin on the two new spans. The expedited permitting and environmental review for the project was made possible in an October 2011 Presidential Memorandum signed by President Obama.
The existing bridge across the Hudson River opened in 1955 and was built to carry a peak load of 100,000 vehicles a day--an ambitious capacity for its day. More than 50 years later, the Tappan Zee carries an estimated 134,000 vehicles each day and as many as 160,000 on weekends.
The heavy traffic along the I-87/I-287 corridor--much greater than anticipated in 1955--makes the Tappan Zee a major bottleneck along one of the East Coast's major economic routes. The bridge has narrow lanes and no shoulders. It's also vulnerable to damage from storms, earthquakes and collisions with ships navigating the river below. The bridge's accident rate is twice that of the New York Thruway system.
For travelers on this corridor, it's time for something better, and yesterday's record of decision brings the project one step closer to reality and brings area workers one step closer to the jobs the project will create.
As FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez said, "The construction of this new bridge will create thousands of jobs. When completed, it will make travel safer and more efficient in one of the nation's busiest areas - setting the stage for economic growth for years to come. It's a prime example of what President Obama called 'an America built to last.' "
The new access and outlet ramps between I-75, I-96 and the bridge are also expected to remove an estimated 10,000 vehicles from local side streets, improving livability for Detroit-area residents well into the future. In addition to improving traffic flow on and near the bridge, the Gateway Project offers better access to an international welcome center and a pedestrian crossing.
Administrator Mendez celebrated the Gateway Project as "the latest chapter in Detroit's ongoing renaissance."
"It's a good example of what our federal-aid highway program is all about," he said. "Creating jobs to build roads; making travel safer; making communities more livable; and improving the flow of commerce."
The improved flow of trucks and cars on the Ambassador Bridge also offers New York area motorists a few hundred miles away a glimpse of the future they can expect when the new Tappan Zee spans open a few years from now. It's a future where wise federal investments continue to make a difference in people's lives.