Friday, August 03, 2012

Tolls to Top $14 on Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement

The Tappan Zee replacement span will cost north of $5 billion, and the New York State Thruway has to figure out how to pay for the cost of the span. The Thruway Authority is selling bonds to cover the costs, and the tolls will back those bonds.

The Thruway Authority is expected to nearly triple the existing $5 toll to $14 to cross the span. That's a huge blow to commuters and businesses that rely on transiting the span on a regular basis and have to pay $5 each way (or less with various discount programs).

It would also likely spur more drivers to head north to the Newburgh Beacon Bridge on the I-84 corridor. The George Washington Bridge, which is the most heavily traveled bridge in the world, has tolls expected to rise to $17 by the time the Tappan Zee is replaced.

Tolls imposed by public authorities are the easiest way that the state can get the necessary funds to build the bridge because it isn't nearly as easy to raise taxes to cover the same amount. Tolls hit those who are directly using the span, even though the benefits are felt throughout the region (lower pollution due to less idling in traffic jams, more efficient travel corridors, etc.).

The state should be kicking in more money to cover the construction, as should the federal government since the Thruway is part of the Interstate highway system.

That's essentially the justification for higher tolls, but the high cost for infrastructure construction should get higher scrutiny from media outlets and from the government itself (both within and outside state agencies). There's no reason that construction costs for these kinds of projects should be so much higher than elsewhere in the world (particularly Europe or Japan). The high costs means that there's fewer projects that can be contemplated because the size and scope of the projects (and the inevitable cost overruns) reduces public support for projects, regardless of how critical they are.

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