But the governor isn't likely to face that problem.
Transportation experts say the proposed new Tappan Zee Bridge is exactly the sort of project the federal government wants to fund under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, a program that's slated to give states a total of $17 billion in low-interest loans for infrastructure projects in coming months.
"Their chances are pretty damn good," said Jack Basso, a former chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Transportation who now works at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, an advocacy group. "I think the Tappan Zee Bridge is going to stand up damn well to most any scrutiny on this thing, just on the merits."
Although they cautioned that they don't possess inside knowledge on New York State's loan application, experts said that the Tappan Zee proposal's near-perfect alignment with TIFIA criteria -- together with strong political support in Washington -- convinced them that New York State's loan application will be approved.
Janet Kavinoky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the TIFIA program is designed to give funds to mega-projects that affect the national economy. The new Tappan Zee Bridge certainly qualifies, Kavinoky said, because it would not only link upstate New York to the city and Long Island but also would serve as a major link between New England and the rest of the country.
TIFIA projects need support in the private sector, Kavinoky said. The "design-build" legislation Cuomo successfully promoted last year would compel contractors, rather than taxpayers, to pay for cost overruns on the bridge. "There is some risk to the contractor," Kavinoky said. "That kind of risk sharing is very significant."
The Tappan Zee also already has tolls, another factor that boosts the creditworthiness of projects, she said.
Lastly, TIFIA projects should include mass transit, bike lanes, walking paths and other amenities, she said. Under current plans, the proposed bridge should have a dedicated express bus lane as well as a bike path and scenic views for walkers, and Cuomo has promised to make sure it has the capacity to support a rail link in the future.
TIFIA is also tailored to give a leg up to projects that might not go forward without federal funding, Kavinoky said, and it's mandated to avoid dumping money into infrastructure that has deteriorated from a lack of maintenance.
Overburdened and structurally unsound, the current Tappan Zee Bridge is considered "functionally obsolete," said Kavinoky, meaning repairing it wouldn't be cost-efficient.
And though Cuomo has pledged to build the bridge with or without the TIFIA loan, Kavinoky said, Empire State leaders have been calling for a new Tappan Zee for years with little to show for their efforts.
"This is something that has been put off year after year after year," she said. "If New York had to raise the money to build the bridge, who knows when it would be built?"
Still, despite those criteria, ultimately federal Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood chooses who receives the loans under the TIFIA program. He doesn't need congressional approval to dole out the funds, a system that works in the bridge's favor, too. LaHood, of course, works for Obama, who already has signaled his support for the project.
"[TIFIA] is supposed to be above politics," said Brian Deery, senior director for highway and transportation at the Associated General Contractors of America, a lobbying group. "But I've been in Washington too long to think that is totally true."
Last year, Obama designated the bridge as a priority project and fast-tracked it for federal approvals, shortening a process that often takes years into 10 months. And after federal officials denied New York State's first loan application, they told Cuomo he should apply again when Congress appropriated more money, which happened soon after.
But Deery felt that Republican Mitt Romney, if elected president, also likely would have supported a new Tappan Zee Bridge. "It's really kind of a poster child for this program," he said. "Even if you took the politics out of it, it still has a really, really good chance of getting some funding."
Other experts echoed Deery's final point: The question now is less whether New York State will receive a federal loan, but how big that loan might be. After all, federal officials could give the state less than it is seeking.
Brian Conybeare, Cuomo's adviser on the Tappan Zee proposal, said the prospect of receiving a smaller-than-requested loan wouldn't stop work from starting on the bridge in the coming months. "We have said all along that we would apply for the maximum amount available from TIFIA," Conybeare said. "But the governor has said we need to build a new bridge no matter what."
Basso and other experts' comments shed light on an aspect of the bridge proposal that often has been murky. Although Cuomo and his aides have waged a public relations campaign to gain the support of local leaders and Hudson Valley residents on the project, they've said little publicly about federal funding for the bridge since they asked for a $2.9 billion TIFIA loan in October.
In contrast, Cuomo's team invited journalists to go on a Hudson River boat tour with members of the special design team now reviewing bids submitted by three construction consortiums seeking to build the bridge.
A U.S. Department of Transportation spokesperson would say only that officials are reviewing the state's request.
The silence over the funding has raised questions over how Cuomo would pay for a project that has become a centerpiece of his administration if the TIFIA loan doesn't come through, especially because federal officials rejected New York State's loan application in April before Congress appropriated more money for the program three months ago.
Under Cuomo's plan, Thruway Authority bonds backed by increased tolls would pay for about $3 billion of the bridge's price tag.