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Concerns Evident Before Cuomo Bridge Opening

Thursday, September 27, 2018

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Weeks after the grand opening of the second span of the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo bridge was delayed twice, a recently revealed paper trail indicates that general contractor Tappan Zee Constructors was concerned about whether the job could be completed on time, even after the opening date was pushed from Aug. 24 to Sept. 7.

According to The Journal News, in a letter from late July, Project Executive and Manager Terry Towle dissented against Thruway Authority Project Director Jamey Barbas’ directive that the secondary span be done by Aug. 24. Towle expressed concerns related to increased project risk, as well as the likelihood of uncompleted work. The opening was eventually delayed a second time, to Sept. 11, amid safety concerns.

Paper Trail of Concerns

In Towle’s original notes regarding the deadline for the new bridge, he said that while Aug. 24 was not practical, the company’s findings related to schedule changes might allow for traffic to be placed by Sept. 7, though a number of other changes would have to be made to meet even that deadline. 

Thruway Authority Acting Executive Director Matthew Driscoll said that Tappan Zee Constructors had a contractual obligation to have the work completed by Aug. 24. The firm reportedly turned down assistance from the authority and instead proposed the Sept. 7 opening date.

Barbas, of the Thruway Authority, told the Journal News that the original deadline was Aug. 15, but weather-related delays prompted the first extension of the deadline to Aug. 24. Barbas also said that the state would cover the cost of overtime and damage to equipment. Towle suggested in his letter that the Thruway’s financial offer was vague.

Bridge Opening Delay

Earlier this month, after the Sept. 7 date was agreed to, the opening date for the Cuomo Bridge was delayed yet again when a piece of the old Tappan Zee Bridge became unstable and threatened to fall. At the time, the Tappan Zee was being disassembled.

Early on the evening of the 7th, after a ceremony marking the opening of the new span, crew members working on the old bridge heard a loud "pop," Towle told CBS New York. Apparent issues with joints have been dubbed the likely culprit behind the partial collapse of the span toward the new bridge, which is only 160 feet away. 

The bridge underwent an evaluation after the concerns surfaced, and the new Cuomo span was allowed to open four days later when the site was deemed to be safe.

The timing of the opening prompted accusations of political motivation against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with critics saying that he wanted the span open by Sept. 7, just ahead of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, which he won a week later. Both Cuomo’s office and the Thruway Authority denied these clams, but critics, including Cuomo's primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, charged that the governor was putting politics above public safety and rushing the opening. 

About the Project

The new Cuomo Bridge consists of twin cable-stayed spans, each stretching 3.1 miles total, with a 1,200-foot-long main span. The first of the two new spans opened in August 2017, at which point demolition of the old Tappan Zee began; parts of the old bridge have recently been scuttled in the sea near Long Island to create artificial reefs.

The first of the new spans was converted to handle westbound traffic only after the newer, eastbound span opened to traffic; vehicles had been traveling in both directions on the one span for the past year.

Disassembly of the old bridge is still underway. Work done above the water line is likely to be completed before the end of the year, with the main span taken apart at separate times—in October and in late December. Anything below the waterline will be taken care of well into 2019.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management

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