Cuomo made the announcement today on a conference call with reporters. The permitting process, which includes an environmental review, typically takes about three years for a project this size, said Andy O’Rourke, a New York Thruway Authority spokesman. It took fewer than 10 months after President Barack Obama designated the bridge as one of 14 construction plans put on a so-called fast track for approval.
The decision allows Cuomo, who has made replacing the 56- year-old span a priority, to select a contractor and begin construction. The 3.1-mile (5-kilometer) Tappan Zee, about 20 miles north of Manhattan, carries 138,000 vehicles each day between Westchester and Rockland counties as part of the Thruway system. That’s 40 percent more than its designers intended in the 1950s.
“This was the aspect of the project that had me holding my breath, and I’m going to exhale today,” Cuomo said on the conference call. “This was really the big hurdle.”
The step is the latest in what Cuomo has called a “phenomenally rapid” pace to get the new bridge built after a decade of discussions and $88 million in studies that led nowhere. Cuomo, a 54-year-old Democrat, says building the new span will be an example of government breaking down barriers that have impeded progress.
To get the approval, the state needed to provide the transportation department with its plan to pay for the project.
Cuomo has said most of the project will be funded through toll-backed bonds. The Thruway Authority, which is building the bridge, applied Sept. 5 for a $2.9 billion federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan. Getting federal approval of the environmental plan makes the state eligible for the loan and other funding.
Cuomo has asked the Thruway Authority to look for other funding sources to keep tolls from almost tripling.
Last month, Larry Schwartz, Cuomo’s chief of staff, said cash tolls could rise to $14 from $5 based on the $5.2 billion estimate for building the bridge. Brian Conybeare, a special adviser to Cuomo on the project, has since said the prices in the offers from the groups led by Fluor Corp. (FLR), Bechtel Group Inc. and Skanska AB (SKAB) won’t top the estimate.
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