The Tappan Zee Bridge carries the New York State Thruway and Interstates 87 and 287 over the Hudson River between Tarrytown and Nyack, New York.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey began planning efforts in 1950 for a bridge across the Hudson River near Dobbs Ferry, New York as a way of relieving traffic congestion near its existing bridges and tunnels, most notably the George Washington Bridge. 1 The proposal was overridden by New York State Governor Thomas E. Dewey who desired a bridge that would connect the New York State Thruway to the New England Thruway bypassing the congested crossings closer to New York City.
The Port Authority had promised its bondholders that it would not allow any other entity to construct a river crossing within its jurisdiction, which extended north to a point one mile south of Nyack and Tarrytown. 1 An editorial in the New York Times suggested that a bridge could be constructed in southern Dobbs Ferry or northern Hastings-on-Hudson where the river narrowed considerably from its three-mile width at Tappan Zee. 2 It suggested that Dewey work with his counterpart, Governor Alfred E. Driscoll of New Jersey, to work on a compromise that would offer Thruway customers a discounted bridge fare at a more southern crossing. On May 12, Dewey proposed the construction of a bridge between Nyack and Tarrytown, just outside of the Port Authority’s jurisdiction to ensure that revenue collected from tolls would go to the New York State Thruway Authority, not the Port Authority. 3 4 5 The side effect was that the selected site was at the Hudson River’s second-widest point, adding to construction costs. The Port dropped its plans to construct a bridge on its own.
The new Tappan Zee Bridge was designed by Emil Praeger of Madigan-Hyland. 6 Praeger, who had helped develop floating caissons during World War II when the Allied forces needed to construct portable harbors for the invasion of Normandy in 1944, 6 sought to use to support the main through truss span on eight hollow concrete caissons. 7 Their buoyancy would support some of the loads and help reduce costs.
Construction on the new bridge began in March 1952 and it opened to traffic on December 15, 1955, along with a 27-mile segment of the New York State Thruway from Suffern to Yonkers. 8 9 It was completed at the cost of $81 million. Governor W. Averell Harriman officially named the structure the Tappan Zee Bridge on February 28, 1956. 10
Tolls were originally levied for motorists in both directions, but the toll was removed for westbound drivers in August 1970. 11 Tolls for eastbound drivers were doubled.
Unlike other major bridges in metropolitan New York, the Tappan Zee Bridge was designed to last only 50 years because of material shortages during the Korean War at the time of its construction. 12 It was also fracture critical, meaning that one critical fracture of any steel member could cause the bridge to fail completely because structural members would not be able to transfer the structure’s load to other components. 13 Additionally, the crossing was carrying 138,000 vehicles per day by the 21st century, far more traffic than its designed capacity, and it was facing increased maintenance costs. 14 15
Six options were identified for study and environmental review 16 which included the possibility of including a rail line for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). New York State Officials officially announced a plan to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge with a new crossing that included commuter train tracks and lanes for high-speed buses, which was estimated to cost $6.4 billion. Adding bus lanes from Suffern to Port Chester was estimated to cost an additional $2.9 billion while adding a rail line from the Suffern Metro-North station to Metro-North’s Hudson Line at Tarrytown would have added an additional $6.7 billion. 17
In October 2011, it was ultimately decided that the Tappan Zee’s replacement would be a pair of bridges. 26 The Thruway Authority requested design proposals from four companies in 2012 and eventually received three feasible project proposals. 27 28 It awarded a $3.142 billion contract to Tappan Zee Constructors (TZC), a design-build consortium that included Fluor, American Bridge, Traylor Bros, and Granite Construction, as their proposal was the least expensive and would have the shortest construction timeline. 28 29 To expedite construction and save on construction costs, especially for Thruway motorists, it was decided that the new bridge would include four general purpose vehicle lanes and a bus-only lane on each span, as well as a shared bicycle and pedestrian path on the westbound structure, 26 and be structurally built for expansion for commuter rail at a later date. 42
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council added the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement to its list of projects eligible for federal funds in August and the plan was approved by the United States Department of Transportation on September 25. 32 It was approval that took fewer than ten months as opposed to years. 33
Construction on the new Tappan Zee Bridge began in October 2013. 30 31 The Left Coast Lifter was used to install groups of pre-assembled girders one full span at a time. 34 By the end of the year, General Electric had completed a year’s worth of dredging to remove PCB contaminants sourced from its factories from the river bottom. 35
The new westbound span opened on August 25, 2017, 18 19 while the eastbound span remained on the circa 1955 bridge until October 7 when it was temporarily shifted to the westbound span to allow for the completion of the new eastbound span. 20 The old bridge was subsequently decommissioned 21 22 and demolished in a piecemeal fashion to minimize impacts on the new bridge structure. 23 One-hundred and thirty-five roadway deck panels, which were in good condition, were removed and sold to local governments for a dollar each so that they could be utilized as roadway decks elsewhere. 24 Other parts of the old bridge were sunk off of the Atlantic Ocean as part of the building of 12 artificial reefs. 25 The eastern approach was demolished with explosives on January 15, 2019, while the western approach was dismantled in May.
After some delays, the new Tappan Zee Bridge was completed at the cost of $3.98 billion 36 on September 11, 2018. 37 38
Reports of a coverup regarding structural issues with the new bridge emerged from a whistleblower in December. 39 40 Dozens of bolts holding 1,250 steel girders together had failed, and some had broken more than a year after they were tightened. The whistleblower stated that it was hydrogen embrittlement that weakened the metal, although a third-party consultant conducted its own study that disproved that statement. 39 The affected bolts were replaced and none of the other 500 bolts used to splice the plates together have failed. 41
Although the original bridge was named the Tappan Zee Bridge, and later after Malcolm Wilson in 1994, the new bridge was referred to as the New NY Bridge 43 and as the New Tappan Zee Bridge. 44 Governor Andrew Cuomo was successful in passing legislation to have the new structure named after his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, on June 29, 2017. 45 The move was met with significant opposition and a compromise was reached that would rename the bridge the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Tappan Zee Bridge in June 2018. 46 The legislative act was never put to a vote, and bills continue to be filed to have the bridge’s name restored to the Tappan Zee Bridge. 47 48
- State: New York
- Route: New York State Thruway, Interstate 87, Interstate 287
- Type: Cable-Stay Suspension
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 16,013 feet (1955); 16,368 feet (2018)
- Main Span Length: 1,212 feet (1955); 1,200 feet (2018)
- Deck Width: 90 feet (1955); 87 feet and 96 feet (2018)
- Total Height: 419 feet (2018)
- Navigational Clearance:
- Ingraham, Joseph C. “Port Bridge Plan Blocked by Dewey; Peril to Thruway Is Seen in Project at Dobbs Ferry for Link with Jersey Roads.” The New York Times, 7 May 1950, p. 1.
- “That Thruway Bridge.” The New York Times, 10 May 1952, p. 1.
- Brenner, Elsa. “Future of Bridge Stirs Bicounty Cooperation.” The New York Times, 30 Apr. 2000.
- Chen, David W. “Ideas & Trends: A Bridge Too Long; The Cost of Urban Sprawl: Unplanned Obsolescence.” The New York Times, 30 Jan. 2000.
- Kestenbaum, David. “A Big Bridge In The Wrong Place.” National Public Radio, 19 Aug. 2011.
- Plotch, Philip Mark. Politics Across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject. Rutgers University Press, 2018, p. 13.
- Guide to Civil Engineering Projects In and Around New York City. American Society of Civil Engineers, 2009, p. 41.
- “Thruway Fact Book.” New York State Thruway Authority.
- “The Thruway Bridge Opens.” The New York Times, 15 Dec. 1955, p. 36.
- “Tappan Zee Is Official; Governor Signs Bill Naming the Thruway Bridge.” The New York Times, 29 Feb. 1956, p. 22.
- Moran, Nancy. “One-Way Tolls Confusing Some Drivers.” The New York Times, 13 Aug. 1970.
- McGeehan, Patrick. “A Bridge That Has Nowhere Left to Go.” The New York Times, 17 Jan. 2006.
- “The Tappan Zee Is Falling Down.” City Journal, 2011.
- “Long List of Level 1 Alternatives.” Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement, Jun. 2003.
- Zhao, Yilu. “From 156 Options, Down to 15 Ways to Go on Tappan Zee.” The New York Times, 24 Jul. 2003.
- “Alternatives Analysis Report, Level 2.” Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement, Jan. 2006.
- Neuman, William. “State to Replace, Not Rebuild, Tappan Zee Bridge.” The New York Times, 26 Sept. 2008.
- “Opening day on new Tappan Zee Bridge shows sleek design, new features.” News 12.
- “Watch drone video of New York’s new Tappan Zee Bridge.” USA TODAY, 24 Aug. 2017.
- “Rockland-bound traffic to begin traveling on new Tappan Zee Bridge.” ABC7 New York, 25 Aug. 2017.
- Berger, Joseph. “A Few Months Before Its Official Opening, Tappan Zee Bridge Is Drivable.” The New York Times, 1 Jun. 2017.
- “Mario Cuomo Bridge: Westchester-bound traffic to shift onto new bridge Oct. 6.” lohud.com, 28 Sept. 2017.
- Berger, Joseph. “The End for the Tappan Zee Bridge Comes in Pieces, Not With a Boom.” The New York Times, 25 Dec. 2017.
- Hu, Winnie. “Old Tappan Zee Bridge Gets New Life as Artificial Reef.” The New York Times, 29 Apr. 2018.
- “‘Potentially Dangerous Situation’ on Tappan Zee Delays Opening of New Cuomo Bridge Span.” The New York Times, 8 Sept. 2018.
- “Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing Project Scoping Information Packet.” Federal Highway Administration, 13 Oct. 2011.
- “Tappan Zee Bridge Project Enters Next Phase, Request for Proposal is Released.” New NY Bridge Project, 16 Mar. 2012.
- “New NY Bridge Project to Replace Tappan Zee, Gets Final Contract Approval.” New NY Bridge Project, 18 Jan. 2013.
- “Cheapest Proposal Chosen for the New Tappan Zee Bridge.” Curbed New York, 17 Dec. 2012.
- “Governor Cuomo Announces Beginning of Formal Construction of the New NY Bridge to Replace Tappan Zee.” Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, 28 Sept. 2014.
- “New Tappan Zee construction starts.” New York Post, 16 Oct. 2013.
- Plotch, Philip Mark. Politics Across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject. Rutgers University Press, 2015, pp. 165-168.
- “Tappan Zee Plan Gets U.S. Dot Approval in Obama Fast Track.” Bloomberg Businessweek, 25 Sept. 2012.
- LaViolette, Michael D. “Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing.” Structure, Oct. 2014.
- “Hudson River PCB Dredging Project.” Hudsondredging.com.
- “Watch drone video of New York’s new Tappan Zee Bridge.” USA TODAY, 24 Aug. 2017.
- “Mario Cuomo Bridge: New opening date set; contractors deem Tappan Zee Bridge ‘stable’.” lohud.com, 10 Sept. 2018.
- Coyne, Matt. “Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge’s second span opens to traffic.” Journal News, 11 Sept. 2018.
- Goldmacher, Shane. “Attorney General Investigating Broken Bolts on Mario Cuomo Bridge.” The New York Times, 14 Dec. 2018.
- Jonathan Dienst, Jaxon Van Derbeken and David Paredes. “I-Team: Whistleblower Alleges Cover-up of Past Bolt Failures on New Cuomo Bridge.” NBC New York, 13 Dec. 2018.
- Lyons, Brendan J. “Structural problems on Mario Cuomo bridge were covered up.” Times Union, 12 Aug. 2021.
- “FAQs.” New NY Bridge Project.
- “The New NY Bridge Project.” New NY Bridge Project.
- “New Tappan Zee Bridge to Open Westbound Side Aug 25, 2017.” Visit Nyack, 22 Aug. 2017.
- Berger, Joseph. “Bridge of Grand Ambitions Is Set to Open at the Tappan Zee.” The New York Times, 24 Aug. 2017.
- “Push to restore Tappan Zee Bridge name comes up short in Albany.” The Journal News, 21 Jun. 2018.
- Baquero, Lynda. “Bring Back The Tappan Zee? Legislation Aims to Scrap Cuomo Name from NY Bridge.” NBC New York, 13 Aug. 2021.
- “Push to change Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge, back to Tappan Zee Bridge.” ABC7 New York, 13 Aug. 2021.