A task force Monday recommended a major expansion of the bus-rapid-transit network in the lower Hudson Valley to support the new Tappan Zee Bridge.
The report from the 31-member task force, obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau, recommends expanding service, planning for a transportation center in White Plains and adding sensors to buses to get through busy intersections in Westchester and Rockland counties.
In its 26-page executive summary, the task force “recommends a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system that is simpler, faster and more reliable than what is provided today.”
The proposal “will expand and enhance the existing transit system and will take advantage of extra lane capacity on” the new bridge.
The state Thruway Authority is spending $3.9 billion to build the new Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River to replace the outdated, existing bridge.
But a key question has been whether the new bridge would adequately address heavy traffic on the bridge and in the region, particularly during rush hours. And the pricetag for the bus expansion — and who would pay for it — remains unclear. There also no immediate plans to add new stops.
Critics of the bridge said it should ideally have light rail to get commuters between Rockland and Westchester counties and to link up with the Metro-North train to New York City.
But state officials said light rail would be too expensive and instead have laid out an expansive plan to increase bus passengers by 28 percent — an increase of 7,800 travelers, on top of the 28,000 who currently ride the commuter bus in the region.
“Commuter or light rail could benefit the region at some point in the future if the population grows and demand warrants,” the report said. “Therefore, it is not precluded as a future transit option and should be studied in greater detail as conditions prescribe.”
The new bridge, which is expected to open in 2018, will be equipped to eventually add light rail, state officials have said. The four-lane bridge will have an express bus/emergency access lane.
The bus plan addresses the fact that commuters travel between the counties more than they travel to Manhattan, the report said. A more detailed report on the bus options is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
The proposal estimates that new bus service and bridge will lead to travel times 25 percent faster on local roads and 20 percent faster on Interstate 287, the busy thoroughfare that leads to the bridge.
“While the proposed system maintains connections to Metro-North Railroad, it goes far beyond just connecting commuters to the rail system,” the report said. “Many people don’t realize that the travel markets within and between each county are significantly larger than travel from either county to Manhattan.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo formed the Mass Transit Task Force in 2012 to address concerns about the travel options with the new bridge.
The report offers short-, mid- and long-term recommendations.
In the short term, when the bridge opens, buses would run either in 15- or 30-minute frequencies to connect to local buses or Metro North. It’s unclear how it would change when it’s rush hour or not.
On Route 59 between Suffern and Nyack in Rockland County, new traffic technology and signal upgrades would improve traffic. The technology would allow buses to skip ahead of traffic at busy intersections.
The report also suggests similar future upgrades on Route 119 and Central Avenue in Westchester.
The report said White Plains will study multi-modal transportation center through a $1 million state grant, saying the facility could be a hub for public transit.
Another proposal suggests a future plan to create a transit station in the median of I-287 near the Palisades Center park and ride in Rockland.
A study is also recommended by using a $250,000 state grant to look at ways to improve Interchange 10 in South Nyack, Rockland County, the report said.
As a long-term recommendation, the report suggests more discussions about a passenger rail service in Rockland to the 31-mile, CSX-owned West Shore Line.
The report also notes that more study is needed for corridor preservation in I-287, saying it is needed “to look at future needs and to ensure corridor space is reserved in the event new facilities are desired.”