This 2007 photo shows the westbound Cross Westchester Expressway (I-287) at EXIT 9A (I-684) in White Plains. Beneath the I-287 / I-684 interchange is a New York State Thruway Authority maintenance yard. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
DEMAND FOR AN EAST-WEST LINK: Since the late 1920's, the idea of a limited-access, cross-Westchester highway had been on the agenda of planners in Westchester County and the entire New York metropolitan area. With the Central Westchester Parkway (the earlier proposal for this route) only partially constructed by mid-century, consensus grew for a highway to serve both passenger cars and commercial traffic, needs that could not be served by the Robert Moses-designed parkways. The post-World War II era brought unprecedented demand on Westchester roads.
In 1950, a Cross-Hudson Bridge was planned at Dobbs Ferry. One year later, the bridge proposal was moved a few miles north to Tarrytown. The proposed crossing was moved north to take advantage of an "east-west Thruway" that would utilize the right-of-way for the Central Westchester Parkway. Such a route would connect to (and take maximum advantage of) north-south arteries on both sides of the Hudson River, not only those in Westchester and Rockland counties, but also those existing or under construction in New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey. The trans-Hudson Crossing, which would be known as the Tappan Zee Bridge, was completed in December 1955.
CONSTRUCTION AND DESIGN: Work began on the Cross Westchester Expressway, which had the original working designation of NY 119, in 1956 after six years of public hearings and community opposition. Soon thereafter, it was included in the Interstate system, making it eligible for 90 percent Federal funding. The six-lane expressway, which was constructed to contemporary standards within a 150-foot-wide right-of-way, was built with 12-foot-wide travel lanes, 10-foot-wide shoulders and a 16-foot-wide median. Grades were limited to maximum of four percent, and curves were constructed with a minimum 1,700-foot radius.
In December 1960, the entire 11.3-mile-long route of the Cross Westchester Expressway, from the New York State Thruway (I-87) in Elmsford to the New England Thruway (I-95) at the Rye-Port Chester border, was completed at a cost of $50 million. Originally designated I-187 in August 1958, the route received the I-487 designation in December of that year. The expressway was re-designated once again in 1961 to underscore its importance as a link in the I-287 beltway.
AN IMPORTANT LINK IN THE I-287 BELTWAY: The I-287 beltway finally was completed in 1994 with the opening of the long-delayed section between Montville, New Jersey and Suffern, New York. Plans to extend I-287 across Long Island Sound to Nassau County, which had been active for about a dozen years, were defeated in 1973.
To maintain a steady source of maintenance revenue during the financial crisis of the early 1990's, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) handed maintenance responsibilities of the Cross Westchester Expressway (I-287) and I-84 over to the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA) in October 1991. New NYSTA reference markers were posted every one-tenth mile along the route, but the NYSDOT maintained responsibility for large-scale capital projects. Although the NYSTA returned maintenance duties of I-84 to the NYSDOT in 2006, the agency still maintains I-287.
A FIERY WAKE-UP CALL: In the predawn hours of July 27, 1994, a tractor trailer carrying 9,200 gallons of liquid propane slammed into the Grant Avenue overpass in White Plains, killing the driver, knocking out part of the overpass, and sending the fiery remains of the truck into residential communities for up to a quarter-mile on both sides of the expressway. Injuries from the blast and related fires sent 23 residents to local hospitals. Although the expressway opened later that evening, the effects of the blast lasted far longer.
The route of the proposed Cross Westchester Expressway in 1953, as shown in "This Is Westchester." Next to the map is a petition to officials to route the expressway around the City of White Plains, not through it as shown here. (Map from "This Is Westchester" supplied by James Rumbarger.)
CROSS WESTCHESTER HOV LANES THWARTED: In the early-to-mid 1990's, state and local officials floated several proposals to address chronic congestion along the Cross Westchester Expressway corridor. After different alternatives were studied, including a $1 billion, dual-track Metro-North railroad line along the I-287 corridor from Tarrytown to Port Chester, the NYSDOT and NYSTA originally agreed to construct a fourth lane in each direction for high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) use.
Several years of intense hearings ensued, and I-287 expansion was made into a campaign issue. Facing mounting opposition, Governor George Pataki withdrew the state's proposal to build the HOV lanes in October 1997. The estimated $500 million cost of reconstructing the Cross Westchester Expressway for the HOV lanes would have been attributed to condemning land, widening the roadway and constructing new bridges.
From "Mobilizing the Region," published by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign:
"The HOV Lane proposal has divided the community over how to solve its traffic problems," Pataki said. "To bring the entire community together in addressing this important issue, I have named a task force to foster a consensus on how to improve transportation, promote economic development and protect the region's environment. There is a better long-term solution for the region than the single HOV lane."
Governor Pataki's announcement of the end of the I-287 HOV project capped four years of community and environmental opposition to the road widening plan. The Governor's decision is a big victory for transportation reformers and an important step toward development of new transportation policy tools by New York State agencies. By this fall, opinion in Westchester and Rockland Counties had swung decisively against the project. Its state DOT and road industry backers were isolated.
In late 1995, the Westchester County Legislature unanimously approved a resolution opposing the project, arguing that highway widening would encourage more auto dependence, exacerbate inefficient land-use and hinder expansion of public transportation. That development, plus strong criticism that emerged at environmental hearings for the project in December 1995, led Gannett newspapers to editorialize against the project. By the summer and fall of 1996, resolutions condemning the project and calling for greater investigation of transportation demand management and public transit options were being considered and passed by municipalities throughout Rockland and Westchester counties.
This 1998 photo shows the eastbound Cross Westchester Expressway (I-287) at EXIT 9 (Hutchinson River Parkway) in Harrison. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS: In 1998, work began on a multi-year project to improve safety and efficiency along the Cross Westchester Expressway, which carries approximately 120,000 vehicles per day from the New York State Thruway (I-87) east to I-684, and approximately 80,000 vehicles per day from I-684 east to the New England Thruway (I-95). This scaled-down project seeks to rehabilitate the existing roadway and bridges, rectify weaving sections, alleviate ramp bottlenecks, and extend inadequate acceleration and deceleration lanes.
The NYSDOT, the NYSTA and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council have scheduled the different phases of the project as follows:
During the first stage of the project, which cost $187 million and was completed in May 2004, the expressway was rebuilt from its western terminus at the New York State Thruway (I-87) east to EXIT 1 (NY 119-Tarrytown Road and Saw Mill River Parkway) in Elmsford. New three-lane-wide connector roadways connect the Cross Westchester Expressway with the New York State Thruway (there is a new left-hand exit from I-87 southbound to I-287 eastbound designed to distribute traffic more efficiently from the Tappan Zee Bridge), and new ramps and collector-distributor (C/D) roadways were built along I-287 from the Thruway terminus east to EXIT 1.
The second stage of the project, which is estimated to cost $52 million, encompasses improvements from EXIT 1 in Elmsford east to EXIT 5 (NY 100-Hillside Avenue and NY 119-Tarrytown Road) in the Town of Greenburgh. At EXIT 5, the entire interchange is being reconstructed, complete with new overpasses and ramps.
The third stage of the project, which is estimated to cost $78 million, will bring further improvements from EXIT 5 in the Town of Greenburgh east to EXIT 7 (Central Westchester Parkway connector) in White Plains. As part of this stage, the viaduct carrying the Cross Westchester Expressway over the Bronx River Parkway is being reconstructed.
The fourth stage of the project, which is estimated to cost $40 million, will bring improvements to a short stretch of the expressway from EXIT 7 east to EXIT 8 (NY 119-Westchester Avenue and Bloomingdale Road) in White Plains.
During the fifth and final stage of the project, which is estimated to cost $50 million, the remainder of the expressway from EXIT 8 in White Plains east to the New England Thruway (I-95) in Rye will be reconstructed.
The $350 million Cross Westchester Expressway comprehensive reconstruction project is slated for completion before the end of this decade. To ease the burden, the NYSDOT, in conjunction with the Metro-North Railroad, has implemented bus service on I-287 to connect businesses along the corridor with intersecting rail lines.
This 2000 photo shows the westbound Cross Westchester Expressway (I-287) at the overpass for EXIT 4 (NY 100A / Knollwood Road) on the White Plains-Elmsford border. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
Upon completion of the reconstruction project, the speed limit should be raised to 60 MPH along the entire length of the Cross Westchester Expressway.
In conjunction with the ongoing operational and safety improvements, lighting should be also installed along the entire length of the expressway. When asked about lighting on the expressway, John Brizzell, deputy chief engineer at the NYSTA, said that capital improvements such as installing lights would be implemented by the NYSDOT. (Con Edison and Westchester County would pay for the operation and maintenance of the lights.)
Finally, longer-range plans should accommodate a fourth travel lane in each direction, in advance of new Tappan Zee and Oyster Bay-Rye crossings. Some provision for mass transit also should be considered for the corridor.
SOURCES: "Let's Be Realistic About Thruways" by Hugh R. Pomeroy, Westchester County Planning Department (2/21/1950), "Statement on Navigation Aspects of the Proposed Nyack-Tarrytown Location for the New York State Thruway Crossing of the Hudson River" by Hugh R. Pomeroy, Westchester County Planning Department (1/04/1951); "Westchester Road Wins Albany Vote, Nassau Bill Is Pending," The New York Times (3/05/1952); "Several Thruway Links Studied, Westchester Wants None of Them," The New York Times (1/07/1954); "Westchester Expressway Link Opens Soon, Ahead of Schedule," The New York Times (12/02/1960); "Long Island Sound Crossing: Draft Environmental Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration, Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York State Department of Transportation (1972); "Tanker Crashes in a Fiery Blast in Westchester" by James Barron, The New York Times (7/28/1994); "Expecting the Unexpected: The I-287 Blast" by Elsa Brenner, The New York Times (8/07/1994); "Going Beyond an Extra Lane on I-287" by Roberta Hershenson, The New York Times (5/07/1995); "Governor Pataki Pulls Plug on Cross Westchester HOV Plan," Regional Plan Association (10/20/1997); Divided Highways by Tom Lewis, Viking-Penguin Books (1997); "Highway HOV Lanes Seem To Be an Idea Whose Time Has Passed" by Daniel Machalaba, The Wall Street Journal (8/27/1998); Thruway Announces Start of Reconstruction of I-287 / I-87 Interchange," New York State Thruway Authority (2/27/2001); "Tappan Zee Bridge / I-287 Informational Open House," New York State Thruway Authority (2001); "New Lane Opens on 287" by Caren Halbfinger, The Journal-News (5/29/2004); New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; Ralph Herman; Jeff Saltzman; Stephen Summers; Douglas A. Willinger.
I-287 and New York State Thruway shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company. HOV and speed limit signs by C.C. Slater.