Cuomo Seeks to Trim Toll Increase on New Tappan Zee Span

Cuomo Wants to Trim $14 Toll Planned for New Tappan Zee Span
The 3.1-mile Tappan Zee Bridge, part of the New York Thruway system, carries 138,000 vehicles, 40 percent more than its design intended, at a cost of $5 cash, collected in only one direction. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he wants the state Thruway Authority to reduce its intended toll increases on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, which would almost triple to $14 when it opens in 2017. The agency’s bonds fell in the heaviest trading in three weeks.

Cuomo asked the board to appoint a panel of architects, historians, local officials and engineers to find ways to cut costs. The committee should choose a bridge design consistent with “the natural beauty of the Hudson River and the interests of the citizens,” Cuomo said in a letter sent to the board.

“The projected 2017 toll schedule based on the Federal Highway Administration’s estimate of up to $5.2 billion for the new bridge is too high,” Cuomo said today. “Over the next 5 years, we must find alternatives, revenue generators and cost reductions that reduce the potential toll increases.”

Building a new Hudson River span about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of midtown Manhattan is a priority for Cuomo, 54, a Democrat who likens the project to the 19th century construction of the Erie Canal. Without the replacement, tolls would rise to about $11.30 to cover the $3 billion to $4 billion needed to make improvements to the 56-year-old span, according to Larry Schwartz, Cuomo’s chief of staff.

“It’s been stalled for so long that some people just believe it’s never really going to happen,” Cuomo said during a radio interview today on Albany’s Talk 1300. “They’ll use the expression, ‘yeah I’ll get to that when they build the new Tappan Zee Bridge,’ like it’s never going to happen.’”

Congestion Headaches

A new bridge’s potential to handle commuter rail or bus transit makes it preferable to renovating the existing span, which would cost “in the same range,” Cuomo said in the letter, addressed to Thruway Authority Chairman Howard Milstein and Executive Director Thomas Madison Jr.

“A new bridge brings not only transit capacity, but expanded lanes to reduce congestion, and accommodate emergency vehicles, breakdown lanes, and pedestrian and bike access -- and a 100-year life before major maintenance,” Cuomo said.

The 3.1-mile Tappan Zee, part of the New York Thruway system, carries 138,000 vehicles, 40 percent more than its design intended, at a cost of $5 cash, collected in only one direction.

The proposed cash fare would increase to $14, with a discounted commuter plan costing $8.40 instead of the current $3 and E-ZPass users about $13.30 rather than $4.75, Schwartz said at a community meeting this month.

A New York State Thruway Authority bond sold in June and maturing in 2042 traded today at an average yield of 3.77 percent, up from 3.6 percent yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Trading volume today was the highest since July 20, the data show.

In June, Standard & Poor’s revised its outlook on the authority to negative from stable, citing “uncertainty related to NYSTA’s plan of finance and long-term tolling strategy related to the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge.”

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