Tara Sullivan, the first female chief executive of the New York State Bridge Authority, was celebrated at a July 15 retirement ceremony, receiving accolades from a bi-partisan cohort of elected state, federal, county and local leaders, past and current NYSBA Commissioners and staff, family members, and friends. Held at the Bonura’s Grandview overlooking the Mid-Hudson Bridge – speakers pointed to Sullivan’s tangible improvements to the bridge infrastructure that serves as the foundation of the region’s economy, and her unique and effective leadership style that inspired her staff to fulfill the Authority’s vital mission through challenging times.
During the event, staff members and elected officials recounted the Authority’s history, and Tara’s role, in carrying forward its vital mission. Founded by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his tenure as New York State governor 89 years ago in the depths of the Great Depression, the NYSBA supports its operations and capital improvements with tolls, which are lower today than when the agency began. It’s unblemished maintenance record, maintained and improved under Sullivan’s leadership, sets national standards for bridge safety.
Tara received accolades from the podium or proclamations from a broad range of elected officials across the political spectrum, including Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, state legislators Jonathan Jacobson, Didi Barrett, Sue Serino, and Michelle Hinchey, Dutchess County Executive Molinaro, and Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison.
Senator Michelle Hinchey cited Sullivan as a role model, while Sullivan highlighted Michelle’s father -- Congressman Maurice Hinchey -- as her mentor in public service at the outset of her career.
During her ten-year tenure – first appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo as the Authority’ second in command and ultimately by its Board of Commissioners to lead it - Sullivan kept the Authority steady on its historical course in its pivotal role managing the five Hudson Valley bridges. These include the Bear Mountain, Newburgh -Beacon, Mid-Hudson, Kingston-Rhinecliff, and Rip Van Winkle Bridges, as well as Walkway over the Hudson.
NYSBA staff members detailed Sullivan’s role in carrying out Governor Andrew Cuomo’s key infrastructure projects and initiatives, including:
• Re-decking the Newburgh-Beacon north span, currently underway on-time and on-budget.
• All-electronic tolling has been implemented at the bridge, while the stage is set for roll-out of AET at all the NYSBA bridges in the months ahead.
• A solar farm at the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge advances the governor’s goals to stem climate change and shift to renewable energy;
• The Authority has dramatically increased its contracting with minority- and women-owned businesses.
Sullivan was also praised for her role in creating Skywalk – linking the homes and studios of 19th century Hudson River School pioneers Thomas Cole and Frederic Church across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Under her leadership, the Authority made improvements to the walkway across the bridge and installed interpretive signs, with viewing platforms offering today’s Hudson River artists and visitors the opportunity to capture and enjoy the river and Catskill mountain vistas that inspired Cole and Church. Trails now link the bridge to the historic sites, and interpretive signs tell the story of Cole’s role as Church’s teacher.
Tara’s role as the founding chairperson of Historic Bridges of the Hudson Valley was also highlighted during the evening. Sullivan recognized that the bridges can be classrooms and sources of inspiration for young people pursuing education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Historic Bridges has created small museums and classrooms at some bridges and curriculum, in active use in Valley schools, based on the bridges’ histories and roles in the Valley economy and culture.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Tara’s exemplary leadership was praised, notably her passionate commitment to the staff of the Authority. While many top officials in state government and the private sector worked in the comfort and safety of their homes during the height of the pandemic, Sullivan reported to the office daily to ensure the safety of her staff and the public. Tara also recognized the importance of staff members’ longevity in service and dedication to the Authority’s mission and high standards. Each time a staff member reached the 20-year or greater milestone, Tara ceremoniously awarded them a pin, thanking them for their dedication, on behalf of the Bridge Authority Board and Governor. Some staff members have worked previously without recognition or thanks for decades. One staff member in attendance at the event is approaching his 55th anniversary, while his granddaughter is also a member of the NYSBA team. Both are members of a four-generation family of Authority employees.
Sullivan demonstrated her own unique style of effective leadership – building on three decades of public service in local, county and state government -- both getting the job done and ensuring equitable treatment of all in the workplace. Her prior service included terms on the Woodstock Town Board, Ulster County legislature, Governor’s Regional Representative, Executive Director of the Hudson Quadricentennial, and Chair of the Dutchess County Ethics Board.