More Questions Than Answers in Cuomo Admin’s Tappan Zee Thinking

Andrew Cuomo inspecting the Tappan Zee Bridge in 2010. Since then, Cuomo has taken transit off the plans for the bridge. Photo: ##http://www.newsday.com/opinion/keep-up-tappan-zee-pressure-1.3243937##Angel Franco/Newsday##

A discussion of the plans for the new Tappan Zee Bridge by the state cabinet today makes clear one thing — that the Cuomo administration continues to race to construction as fast as possible — while leaving other facets more confused and contradictory than ever.

The cost of the bridge, for example, remains unknowable. “The cost at this point isn’t finalized,” said Thruway Authority executive director Tom Madison. The state is assuming a $5 billion price tag, he said, but once they hear back from contractors, “that could swing significantly in either direction.” In a federal loan application, the state said the project would cost $6 billion.

Despite the potential for the bridge to break the bank — it will be twice as wide as the existing span — there’s no plan to slow down to see what toll- and taxpayers are on the hook for. According to Madison, design and build proposals are due in June and a contractor will be selected by the summer.

Talk of how the bridge will be funded raised more questions. The funding will primarily come from tolls, said Cuomo during a press question and answer session. During the meeting, Madison stated that, “Any tolls will be consistent with the other Hudson River crossings and include deep local discounts.” The Port Authority’s bridge and tunnel tolls, however, won’t be enough to cover the cost of the new Tappan Zee, according to calculations by Charles Komanoff.

The financing picture is even murkier. Madison said “pension fund or other private investment” is still on the table, contradicting past statements from DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald and the state’s official answers to questions from contractors. In discussing federal assistance, Madison said the state has applied for a grant from the TIFIA program. But TIFIA only gives out loans, which would need to be repaid.

In contrast to fast-tracked plans for the enormous new automobile bridge, the Cuomo administration continues to shut the door on a transit component. Madison again cited numbers, which have been called into question by advocates and the media, that would put the cost of a bus rapid transit system equal to that of commuter rail, with figures that are five times the state’s best estimates from just two years ago. That kind of cost inflation is not credible without explanation, which the state has refused to provide.

Governor Cuomo himself dismissed the widespread demands for high-quality Tappan Zee transit with some some pretty galling sophistry. “The bridge will be train- and bus-accessible immediately,” he said. “It’s not an issue about the bridge at all. The problem is that to have a rail service, you need development on the Westchester and the Rockland side that would cost billions of dollars, probably twice the cost of the bridge again to do the rail development.” He even bragged that he was building a bridge that was ahead of current transit plans.

Of course, it’s not as if those calling for transit across the Tappan Zee don’t understand that infrastructure is required on either end of the bridge. It’s just that Cuomo killed that infrastructure when he killed transit service on the bridge itself.

The administration also launched a new website to pitch its case for the bridge: http://www.thenewtzb.com/. Madison said the site would “ensure transparency” — which would be a welcome change given the history of the project under the Cuomo administration.

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