Friday, May 04, 2012

Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement Takes Hit When Federal Funding Dries Up

The Tappan Zee bridge needs replacement. That much is clear to pretty much everyone. The new span is expected to cost at least $5.2 billion. It would cost a whole lot more if it is built with heavy rail to connect the Metro North lines on either side of the Hudson River, so the fast-track plan put forth by Gov. Andrew Cuomo omitted that plan but would have the bridge built with the capacity to handle heavy rail added at some later point.

Now, the federal government has put the kibosh on all that. They're saying that they don't have the money to let the project move ahead - to provide a $2 billion loan to get construction going:
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that he is considering new ideas for paying to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge after the federal government initially rejected a $2 billion loan application because it doesn't have enough money at this time.

Partnerships with private companies that could provide financing based on fares are among the many possibilities, though Cuomo didn't disclose any new approaches. Cuomo downplayed rejection of the loan by the Obama administration on April 26. He said there will be future rounds of the competitive loans and New York will have a strong application for the next opportunity. The $5.2 billion project would build two spans to replace an aging, overcrowded bridge across the Hudson River in New York City's northern suburbs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Duane Callender said in a letter to the state that the bridge project scored well in its review, but the federal department didn't have enough money for it this spring. Instead, smaller projects were chosen to compete for $13 billion in funding.

Callender said that if federal funds are significantly increased, the department will create a list of projects to be expedited. Although Callender didn't say the Tappan Zee Bridge would be on that list, another application was encouraged while noting lending could still be "constrained" even with more funding.
To get around the loss of federal funding, Gov. Cuomo is putting together a task force to help get major infrastructure done in the state.
It will be co-chaired by Denis Hughes, the former president of the state AFL-CIO labor federation, and Felix Rohatyn, the Vienna-born investment banker and former U.S. ambassador to France who played a key role in the rescue of New York City during its 1970s fiscal crisis.

The panel's first job will be acquainting itself with the large infrastructure projects already under way, including the mammoth construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge, Cuomo said. The panel has no specific deadline for recommendations, unlike other panels. Instead, it will function on a rolling basis.

The legacy of Gov. Al Smith, the Democrat who reinvented state government in the 1920s, was mentioned several times during the introductions: Margaret Tobin, who is the panel's executive director, said its work would help the state outshine Smith's record of building big things.

Cuomo called Smith's ability to change the shape and direction of government "profound," and celebrated his ability to maintain the trust of the public while fighting "the mismanagement, the atrophy" of state institutions.
A task force is all well and good, but without the state or feds putting up the funds (for an interstate highway project like the Tappan Zee bridge replacement), this is just window dressing to tackle a problem that everyone understands can only be rectified with money.

If the state wants this project to go ahead, it's going to have to belly up with more money for its transportation budget and shift priorities elsewhere.

In the meantime, the Thruway Authority is continuing to rehabilitate the existing bridge to keep it in a state of working order, but that means ongoing lane closures.


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