New York is building a new Tappan Zee Bridge with or without federal help, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, reiterating his pledge to move ahead with construction on the proposed $5.9 billion span before the end of the year.
"We have to build the new bridge in any event, because the old bridge is just dangerous, and it's out of date," Cuomo said in Poughkeepsie, speaking to reporters after a 90-minute boat ride down the Hudson River with state economic development officials. "We have to build the new bridge, period."
The trip, on a tourist boat called Rip Van Winkle, was designed to accent the development potential of the Hudson and illustrate what fun the river can be for tourists, but that didn't stop Cuomo from showing up in the usual dark suit, starched white shirt and cuff links.
Cuomo sat in the front row of a bank of chairs set up in the Rip Van Winkle's main cabin and listened to regional development officials explain projects in the pipeline while the boat glided past picturesque lighthouses and a tree-lined riverbank tinged with the reds and yellows of early fall.
"It's way ahead of schedule," Cuomo later said of the bridge. "We've made remarkable progress on the Tappan Zee Bridge in just a matter of months. This is a project that has languished for years. Literally, they've talked about rebuilding the new Tappan Zee Bridge for 10 years, and nothing happened."
Funding for the bridge remains a key issue for Cuomo. The federal Department of Transportation rejected the state's application for a $2 billion loan in April. But Congress recently increased the pool of available funding, giving Cuomo a chance to ask for more. In October, the state applied for a $2.9 billion loan.
The governor's visit to the Hudson Valley on Wednesday was designed to showcase a key element of his economic program: regional councils designed to identify and help local groups apply for state funding.
Members of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council, which features seven counties in the region, were on hand to tell Cuomo about projects that officials said received a total of $67.8 million in state aid last year, with the council's help.
Cuomo told the officials they were on the right track.
"You have every asset imaginable," he said in Kingston before boarding the Rip Van Winkle. "It is a region that literally inspired a school of landscape artists and painters for years."
Projects highlighted on the tour included the redevelopment of Public School 6 in Yonkers, a building that had been abandoned for three decades until The Community Builders, a Boston-based nonprofit organization, invested $57 million to convert the site into two affordable housing buildings, said the group's president, Bart Mitchell.
The state contributed $5 million to the project, including tax credits, and that aid leveraged $28 million in additional funding, Mitchell said. Demolition of the old school is expected to begin this month.
Speaking at a community meeting on the bridge proposal in Elmsford on Wednesday night, Cuomo's aide, Brian Conybeare, said he expected the federal government to render its decision on New York's request for bridge funding in a few months.
Cuomo hasn't said how he'll pay for the bridge without the federal money. Part of the cost will be paid with the proceeds of bond sales by the New York State Thruway Authority. The bonds will be paid off with bridge tolls in the long run.