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Tappan Zee Bridge: New lighting to make channel safer for boaters

The builder of the new Tappan Zee Bridge is rearranging the navigational lights under the existing bridge’s main span to make it easier and safer for vessels passing through the busy construction zone.

The lights will help more clearly identify the boundaries of the 600-foot-wide channel, which sits within a 900-foot-wide clearance between the piers of the main span. Equipment for permanent pile driving work will be within that 900-foot opening but outside the navigation channel, which will be kept clear during construction.

“The new temporary navigational lights on the existing Tappan Zee are another measure, approved by the Coast Guard, to further boater safety during construction of the new bridge,” said Brian Conybeare, a special adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the project. “The main channel under the bridge remains open for recreational and commercial vessels and all boaters are advised to use the main channel, reduce wake and use extreme caution in the construction zone.”

Four rotating red navigational lights will be relocated to the underside of the bridge to mark the channel. Two lighted buoys will be moved to the channel’s center to increase visibility and serve as a lane divider for vessels.

“The marking of the channel is simply an extra safety precaution to show where (the river) is deepest and easiest to get by,” Coast Guard spokesman Charles Rowe told The Journal News on Wednesday.

Tappan Zee Constructors, the design-builder of the $3.9 billion bridge, will add the new lights.

The new lighting plan, which was also approved by the New York state Thruway Authority, is expected to be completed this week and will remain in place through mid-2015, project officials said.

Dozens of pieces of equipment and barges are already in the river, along with four mooring fields, and work crews’ boats zip around the construction zone, all of which have combined to heighten concerns about boater safety during the five-year project.

On July 26, two boaters were killed and four injured when their powerboat crashed into a barge at night. The victims’ families say the barge couldn’t be seen in the dark, although the lighting on the barge met federal standards. Since the crash, more lights have been added to equipment.

In September, the Coast Guard established a zone around the Tappan Zee for the purpose of restricting river traffic and lowering speeds as needed. Known officially as a “regulated navigation area,” it extends 300 yards north and 200 yards south of the existing bridge.

Rowe said boaters should move toward the channel as they approach the special zone. Channel restrictions and closures are likely to occur during the installation of the main spans.

As for the additional channel lighting, there will be two red lights on the upstream side of the main span and two on the downstream end, at 300 feet on either side of the buoys in the center of the channel. Each buoy will feature a green light with three white lights stacked above it. Rowe said the lights don’t send a specific message but are “a way to illuminate the middle of the channel so people can find it better.”

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