“Back during a long stretch away from this office working in Westchester, one of the frequent challenges was getting from east of White Plains to the Tappan Zee Bridge without setting tires on Interstate 287.
It was bad enough under normal conditions, but something always seemed to be out of the ordinary. It might be snow or ice, or a violent summer storm. It might be holiday weekend traffic. And of course, it could be — and often was — a problem on the Tappan Zee, whether an accident, emergency road repairs, trouble moving the barrier or some other unimagined nightmare.
If there was an accident on a Friday of a holiday weekend when it happened to be raining or snowing, well, that was the “perfect storm,” the one that backed cars up to Connecticut and Suffern.
In the interest of self-preservation — and seeing my kids again before they got married — I found alternative routes.
One took me a block from the office, across a bridge over the highway and then into the fringe of downtown White Plains. Sometimes, I’d take Route 119 through White Plains, Greenburgh, Elmsford and Tarrytown to the last possible entrance to the bridge.
That was a simple one. Another took me north on the Bronx River Parkway to North White Plains, east through Valhalla and on past the Tarrytown Lakes to Route 9 and then south to the bridge.
Yet another involved picking my way through local streets to the Taconic Parkway, which allowed me to zip north — except when hundreds of others had the same idea — to cross the river at the Bear Mountain Bridge.
That’s the desperate act of a desperate motorist, but I was pushed to use it several times and might have again had I been trying to make the trip that day a couple of weeks back when high winds toppled trucks and closed the Tappan Zee for hours.
There’s nothing new here.
Problems on the bridge may be snagging more cars with more passengers and they may be causing more truckers and bus drivers to gnash their teeth.
But cars spilling onto the streets of South Nyack, which got hammered when the bridge was built 50 years ago, has been a fact of life for decades. They back up along Broadway and on the stretch of 9W that leads down to the entrance in South Nyack. Eventually, drivers spill off onto Route 303 in West Nyack and the Palisades Parkway. When the backup is bad enough or long enough, drivers crawl off the Thruway onto Route 59 at the Nanuet-Spring Valley interchange. Living in Suffern, I’ve actually seen traffic backed up all the way to Exit 14B and drivers getting off in Airmont to try their luck on Route 59.
All of which is why I’ve been so convinced over the years that any attempt to evacuate that 10-mile ring around Indian Point — including a large portion of Rockland — would be futile.
The recent high-wind closing drove the point home all the more.
There’s a detour plan in place for situations on the bridge, but it wasn’t activated Jan. 18. That left people like South Nyack-Grand View Police Chief Robert Van Cura to take it upon themselves to close Thruway ramps.
The weather conditions were rough, no doubt. But there was no sense of urgency involved — no Indian Point leak, no plume of smoke from a terror attack, no one hell-bent on getting home or to a school to gather up their children for the evacuation.
Had the plan been activated, the traffic would have been detoured onto all those roads people use on their own any way. Police agencies would be called to do that and we’re told there would be instruction on the Thruway’s radio frequency, which hasn’t been much help in the past.
Now imagine there is something very wrong — something more than unusual weather conditions or an accident. Imagine a terror strike on the bridge itself or the problem they say will never happen at Indian Point or a bio-terror attack that requires getting people away from Manhattan.
Now think about how the Thruway detour plan didn’t get activated and how it likely wouldn’t have done much more than motorists do on their own. Think about whether police will have the time or personnel to put out detour signs and block ramps. As it was, emergency personnel had trouble getting through traffic.
Making the right calls in a real emergency will take quick, decisive thinking. It will need more than one variable message sign on the Thruway telling us something more than to buckle our seat belts. We’ll need a radio link that comes alive with real information, updated and delivered instantly.
We need more technology and a lot of the Homeland Security money we’re not getting to pay for it all.
Above all, we need a recognition at all levels of government — and among all of us — that the Tappan Zee Bridge is a vital lifeline, far more than just a route to work across the Hudson.“
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