NEW YORK – Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a transformational plan to reimagine New York’s crossings for the 21st century. The plan will institute state-of-the-art automatic tolling at all MTA bridges and tunnels – reducing traffic congestion and decreasing emissions to improve the overall travel experience for millions of residents and visitors in New York State. At the Governor’s direction, the state will also deploy cutting-edge technology and security personnel to high-profile crossings in New York to enhance public safety and fortify anti-terror efforts. More information is available here.
AUDIO of the Governor’s remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor’s Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:
Thank you, thank you very much. Thank you thank you and good morning to all of you. First, to Louise Mirrer, thank you for hosting us today. Let’s give her a big round of applause.
Ms. Mirrer did many acknowledgements, but a few were left to me. The MTA Chairman who did a tremendous, really tremendous effort on the project you’re going to hear about, let’s give a big round of applause to Tom Prendergast who’s here.
We have from the MTA Board, Ferrara and Andrew Albert who are here from the – the Executive Officer of Operations of the MTA James Ferrara and the President of the Bridge and Tunnel Division who is Don Sparrow. Let’s give them a round of applause.
And from my office, my special counsel Rick Cotton who oversees all the major construction projects. We call him the Robert Moses of the office. And Kelly Cummings and Maxwell Morgan who worked night and day on the presentation. Let’s give them a round of applause.
And to the Regional Planning Association, the American Institute of Architects, and the New York Historical Society – thank you for hosting today, thank you for participating, and it really does set the context for this conversation. Now, I’m going to read very quickly today for two reasons. Number one, I’m from New York and I’m born and raised in New York and we speak fast in New York. That’s what we do. Number two, Congressman Charlie Rangel just leaned over to me and said ‘you know, you Cuomo’s speak long. I’m giving you 16 minutes and then I’m getting up and walking out.’
So, I’m going to, I’m going to move it right along. But, the context for today – the New York Historical Society, the American Institute of Architects, the RPA – really frame this conversation. So much in today’s world is about the immediate. It’s about the here and now. It’s about Twitter, it’s about Instagram and focusing on getting one day to the next. When the reality is, it’s the long view that matters. And what are they doing to say 10 years from now, 20 years from now, and 30 years from now, about what we accomplished while we were here. And that’s what we’ve been working on, on the state side. When the future generations look back on what we did and what we accomplished, what would they say? Did we plan ahead? Did we have a sustainable vision for growth? Did we actually make New York more competitive? Did we make New York safer? Did we make New York more efficient? That’s what they’re going to ask and our charge is to make sure the answer is yes.
Now, when they take the long view – the bar is set very high because the people who came before us were really phenomenal. New York didn’t just evolve. New York didn’t happen. New York was built by people who had a bold vision and they said were going to make this happen come hell or high water. And they went ahead, and they did it. And there was nothing that could stop them. There was no height that they couldn’t scale, there was no distance that they couldn’t span. Tallest buildings. Longest bridges. That’s who they were, they were visionaries. And at the essential core of the vision was an unmatched transportation system. Why? Because mobility and access was everything if you want to grow the economy. And everything they built has sustained us for decades. Just think – when was the last time we built a bridge, a tunnel, a major piece of infrastructure. It’s all about what our fore fathers have done up until now.
Our challenge, then, is to meet the challenges of today. Now, we are already on our way. We have a major transportation plan that is the most aggressive transportation infrastructure plan in the United States. We’re spending over $100 billion – the largest amount ever invested in infrastructure and construction for our new New York. From the east, we have a full regional template for our development. From the east we’re increasing the capacity of the Long Island Railroad. Because you have to get people in from further and further on Long Island – we’re building a second and a third track. We’re improving the MacArthur Airport, the regional airports, to take the stress off JKF – same thing with Republic. We’re going to have a master plan to redo JFK. Whole new airport at LaGuardia, ground up. Not a renovation, not a repair. A 100 percent airport because LaGuardia has been an embarrassment for too long.
We’re going to have an air train from LaGuardia directly to Penn Station. We have the East Side Access program. From the North, we have a counterpart to this on the roads and bridges in Upstate. We’re redoing the Upstate airports. The Stewart Airport is another regional airport. We’re building a new Tappan ZeeBridge, which is really exciting and amazing. Four new Metro stations in the Bronx to develop parts of the Bronx that have not yet been developed. Second Avenue Subway, we’re going to get completed by hook or by crook. Jacob Javits Center, we are doubling the capacity of the Javits center by adding one million square feet. We’re in the midst of that right now. We’re about to announce funding for the Gateway Tunnel, which is the new tunnel to New Jersey because those tunnels are collapsing. Last week, we announced plans for a new Penn Farley because Penn is the equivalent of LaGuardia. It’s the train station embarrassment, if LaGuardia is the airport embarrassment and we announced a new Penn Farley complex that is going to be stunning. And today we’re talking about the MTA and their bridges and tunnels.
Now, everybody thinks the MTA is subways and busses. They are, but they also have the TBTA that does the bridges and tunnels. And when you think about what made New York, what made us in the first place, why did we have the natural attraction? It was about our harbor. It was about our water and that’s why the bridges and tunnels are such a major part of our infrastructure because we are all about connecting places around the water.
Now these crossings present both challenges and opportunities. They are bottlenecks right now. There are security concerns about out tunnels and bridges in this age of terrorist activity and lone wolves. If you look at points of vulnerability, you’ll go to our tunnels and our bridges. So, really they have to be reimagined for a new reality. That’s what we’ve done. We call it the New York Crossings project. Our crossings are all across the metropolitan area and we want to improve them in five ways – reduce the traffic, enhance the security, hardening and remediation, conservation and public art.
First, on reducing traffic. We have the most congested roads in the nation. If you look at our commute times, they are getting longer and longer and longer. As the metropolitan region grows more and more, the commute is increasing more and more. When you ask people why they are moving away from the region, they’ll say they can’t find housing within a distance that allows a suitable commute. But the times have been increasing. The best way to reduce traffic – get people into mass transit. Get people into mass transit. Get people into mass transit. And to get people into mass transit, you have to have a mass transit system that people want to use and that’s why that’s been such an emphasis on what we’ve been doing.
Second best way is to make the traffic flow faster. We have 800,000 vehicles that go through our tunnels and bridges and drivers can wait up to an hour and 45 minutes every month to pay the tolls. 6,400 hours every day are spent waiting to pay the tolls which is just amazing when you think about it. What is the solution? It’s what’s called automatic tolling. No toll plazas. No toll collection. Automatic tolling, vehicles never stop. They go right through the automatic tolling machine and that’s how they pay the toll. It’s very simple. We have sensors and cameras that are suspended above the road on what’s called gantries. They read the E-ZPass or they read the license plate. If you have an E-ZPass, they charge the E-ZPass. If you don’t have an E-ZPass, they read the license plate and send the bill to the registered owner.
This is a proven system. The Thruway uses it. It’s on the Tappan Zee Bridge. The MTA has put it on the Henry Hudson and it has worked very well on the Henry Hudson – 94 percent of vehicles had E-ZPass. We think with this new system, we’ll get that number up even higher. Six percent are billed by mail, and while only two-thirds paid, the penalties made up for the loss.
Collisions, interestingly enough, have been reduced from 32 to seven when you don’t have the toll plaza. So we want to build on this accomplishment and bring automatic tolling to every MTA crossing. No more toll booths. No more stopping. We’re projecting it’ll save commuters 21 hours of drive time every year.
Second, issue is the issue of security and talking about a long view and looking back, this is probably one of the great challenges that we have to face. How do you address security with these threats that we now have on a daily basis that are getting worse and worse and worse, and New York is a target and denial is not a life strategy, right? So, our crossings present both a vulnerability and, I believe, an opportunity. There are emerging technologies in our security systems that are state-of-the-art and we want to install them all across the MTA facilities and on the crossings. Sensors that are reading license plates and are testing state-of-the-art facial recognition software, where now literally software is getting more and more sophisticated where it can read a face. We are going to be using this in Penn Farley, and we also want to be testing it on the bridges and crossing system, so we bring that security aspect to our crossings. We are going to combine anti-terrorism teams with traffic enforcement at our crossings and have new protocols across the agencies. We will have 525 TBTA officers who will be trained to do just this. We are adding 150 State Troopers. We are adding 150 National Guardsmen, and they will be staged at both ends of a tunnel or bridge. We are going to have special equipment and special vehicles that are intercept vehicles or blocking vehicles if, God forbid, you have to close the tunnel in a hurry.
Third, we have learned the hard way about Mother Nature’s wrath and how vulnerable we are to Mother Nature. We saw it in Hurricane Sandy. We saw it in Irene. We saw flooding like we have never imagined before. Our preparation was for a 100-year flood. It was not enough. It turned our tunnels into what looked like the canals of Venice underground. A gondola going down that canal would be fine, but we now need to redo our crossings for a 500-year flood scenario, and that means having barriers to block floodwater from entering the tunnels in the first place when the water gets that high. We have been working on this to find the appropriate barriers. We found them. They are going to be installed so that our tunnels will be sealed. We will not incur the damage in the first place. You have to remember, most of our bridges were designed over half a century ago. Seismic hazards are more of a threat than they have been before. The consequences of an earthquake or even a serious tremor could do significant damage. We are going to retrofit all of our bridges with what is called seismic isolation bearings that basically allow more flexibility in the structure, so the structure will not break. It will be more flexible. There is a variance in the design. We are also reinforcing all of the columns and the piers. We are also reinforcing the surrounding areas with concrete armor units to reduce scouring, et cetera on the bridges.
Fourth, it is about environmental conservation, and that has been a big part of what MTA has been about. Automatic tolling is going to make a significant difference on the amount of fuel that is burned and time saved. LED lighting on the MTA bridges and facilities is a significant energy conservation savings, and we are going to be installing that. It reduces the use of electricity by 40-80 percent less power. New York Power Authority is going to be doing that for the MTA starting this January.
So, what are we going to be doing? What are the next steps? The removal of the toll booths requires a reconfiguration of many of the toll plazas. Many of the toll plazas open up wide to allow access to toll booths and then close up again on the other side. We are going to have to reconfigure those toll plazas. We are going to be installing what is called the gantries that will hold the electronic equipment. One is up on the Henry Hudson where we were testing it. We have the additional security personnel and equipment in place. We are going to redesign the tunnel plazas to meet the new needs and we are going to be testing video message boards with real time communication so if something happens on a real time basis you can update drivers using some of the software what is the fastest route, is there an accident, et cetera. The schedule: the automatic tolling will begin on the MTA tunnels in January, which is a very aggressive schedule, but we like to set the bar high. All bridges by the end of next year, LED lighting will begin in January. State Police, National Guard, barricade vehicles will start in January. The resiliency barriers will be installed next year, and the seismic measures are currently underway.
How much does this cost? About $500 million from the MTA Capital Budget. $37 million annually for the security, which, I will defend that investment any day of the week. $100 million for the resiliency measures, which is federal money that comes from the Storm Recovery Funds, and the seismic measures are being paid for from the Structural Rehabilitation Fund. This is not a proposal. This is not an idea. This is not “I think we could do this. I think it would be nice.” The funding is secured. Tom Prendergast has it in his back pocket. I know he does, and implementation is already underway. Many of the contractors have already been selected, and much of the work is already moving. So, this is going to be a reality.
And fifth, at a different time when we were more ambitious and more confident as a people we had a different orientation towards public works and we understood that public works were also public art. We were proud of them and we were confident and we adorned it. Look at what we built and just think of the attitude that New York had when you built these great structures, because every structure we built we made it special and we were building for the long term. We were proud of ourselves and we were confident about ourselves and we showed that. The David Dinkins Municipal Building, the State Capitol in Albany, the most expensive building built in the country at the time, it was the State Capitol Building. That’s because they invested in architecture and they believed in it. Penn Station, the original Penn Station was just magnificent. Jones Beach and some of Robert Moses’s work what he did out of Jones Beach, people forget that Jones Beach was all created by fill. 14 feet of fill to make Jones Beach from what was separate islands at the time and wetlands and then he built it with magnificent art décor architecture everywhere.
Now the MTA has done a good job in incorporating art and they have had this insight, this is called Tom Prendergast’s coffee cup. Big man, big cup they say. The MTA has done a good job in introducing art into the underground projects, it is time to bring it above ground at the same time. So as we are going through the work that we need to do, we are also going to do it in a way that beautifies the city and adds a new dimension to the city. The plaza walls on bridges and tunnels will have what we call covering veils. The veils are functional, behind the veil will be all the security measures. The personnel the vehicles, all the infrastructure, the conduits, all so you won’t see it. The veil will also act as a sound absorbing barrier for the surrounding communities. The plazas will be quieter and the noise going to the surrounding communities will be quieter. The veil will also house the message boards that we talked about and the video boards will be behind the veils where you can change the message at any time in real time all along these veils.
The insides of the tunnels are going to have a design aspect and they will have color accents and they will have LED lighting. Energy efficient with blue ceilings, I don’t believe we will fool anyone into thinking their looking at the sky but at least it will give you a feeling of openness in the tunnels that you don’t have and blue and gold LEDs.
The gantries themselves which are those steel poles, which aren’t the most attractive pieces of infrastructure, will be covered with what we call – covered with decorative artworks – in what we are calling a wave effect. This wave will be constructed of a chainmail type fabric that moves with the wind. This is the chainmail on a parking garage and that is how it is constructed and it literally moves with the wind. For the wave effect of seeing this motion and this fluidity, we think it is going to be very attractive. The wave will have a variety of shapes and sizes at different crossings, different tunnels, and different bridges will all have different configurations and depending upon that configuration the wave and the veils will be designed to fit that application.
When we redesign the plazas, we will be incorporating the wave with the veils to once again cover all the equipment et cetera. Because New York at the end of the day its about imagination, it is about creativity, it is about the arts, it is a big part of who we are. We are going to have the digitally controlled LED systems that will be programmed to also do color lighting.
Now, bridges across the world are already doing this, when they transition to LED lighting to save money. The LED lighting can color the bridges so this is Seoul, South Korea and this is one of our bridges in Buffalo, it is the Peace Bridge and you can see how lighting changes the whole effect of the bridge. This is the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia and this is the Boston Bunker Hill Bridge. The city of London is also now very aggressive on the lighting of their bridges and they have a project to light all of their bridges along the Thames River. They do it partially for artistic reasons, but also because it is an economic development measure because it attracts tourists. They believe the San Francisco lighting of the Bay Bridge and people who go to San Francisco to see the lighting, it has generated over $100 million in economic activity.
Well, if that’s what they can do in those other laces, then imagine what we can do in New York because our bridges are some of the most beautiful on the globe, just structurally. If they were illuminated, they could be breathtaking, and I believe they could be an international tourist attraction. Our theme will be “The City that Never Sleeps.” They’ll be illuminated from dust to dawn and just imagine the possibilities when you illuminate all of those crossings, they can all be choreographed, they can all be synchronized, they can all be the same color, they can operate in series – I mean, it is really limitless. We’re going to be adding the Port Authority George Washington Bridge, which is one of the magnificent bridges on the planet, and that will also be coordinated with the rest of the MTA bridges. We can also coordinate with the buildings that are now lit and illuminate other buildings but the Empire State Building, the Freedom Tower — they are lit, they have this capacity, and we can coordinate with them because we need to do the work so the point is to actually do it right, and let’s do it the New York way and let’s lead.
My last point is this: I don’t know how many of you have been paying attention to the political season, and I’m not asking you either, but there was another debate last night as you know and it’s a political season unlike any I’ve seen. It seems like the candidates disagree on almost everything except one point, which is, this nation should be investing in infrastructure because we have assets that are literally crumbling and if you don’t continue to invest and grow, you go backwards. Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative – they will all say, “We should be investing in infrastructure, now is the time to do it.” They’ve been saying it for years, and you know what has happened? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Why? Gridlock in Washington, fear, short-sighted frustration, but nothing has happened. New York is different. New York has always been different and when the rest of the world said “No, you can’t,” New York said, “Yes, you can.” What we did was lead by example. We did things that nobody thought could be done. It’s what made us New York in the first place.
It started with the Erie Canal, right? What really made New York harbor sing, what really brought the commerce to New York. We were the gateway to the west and that’s what the Erie Canal did for us. 1817, it was in our DNA, it was in our blood. Governor was called Dewitt Clinton and Virginia was trying to be the access route to the West. Dewitt Clinton said, “No, I have a plan. We’re going to make New York the main harbor, and we’re going to be the gateway to the West.” They said, “Really, Governor? What’s the plan?” “You come in New York Harbor with your ship, you go up the Hudson River, you get to Albany, you make a left, you’d come out at Buffalo and you’re in the Great Lakes, and you go wherever you want to go. You’re in the West.” They said, “Governor Clinton, just one question: when you make the left at Albany, how do you get the ship to Buffalo?” He said, “No problem. I figured it out. We’re going to dig a canal.” 1817. 524 miles. They said he was crazy. They moved to impeach him on the grounds of insanity. He built the Erie Canal, 524 miles, seven years, on-time, on budget. Erie Canal opened up New York to an entirely different future.
That’s who we are, that’s what built this place. New Yorkers were never slow or timid or fearful or cautious or incompetent. We were the other, the exact opposite. We are about can-do. It’s the New York spirit, it’s the New York energy, and some people want to say it’s the New York arrogance, they want to say it’s the New York chutzpa – I don’t care what you call it, but it was that boldness that made us New York in the first place. It is that boldness that we have to bring back to the table and we have to rekindle, that sense of belif in ourselves. At the end of the day, this is very simple: our obligation as a citizen, as a parent, as a member of society – there’s one question: did you leave this place a better place? While you were here for your time on this earth, did you make this place a better place? Did you leave this state a better state? Have you left your children a better place than you had? We are not a caretaker generation. We have the DNA of our forefathers. We’re going to make New York better than ever before and this is part of that plan.
Thank you and God bless you.