On Thursday, county executives from Westchester, Rockland and Putnam -- each holding a vital vote on the nine-member New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, whose unanimous approval is needed to get federal financing for the estimated $5.2-billion project -- agreed to support building a new bridge at a vote scheduled for next month.
It's a big "get" for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who needed their backing but didn't have it as recently as a month ago. In exchange for the sign-off by the trio, the governor has agreed to consider their desire for mass transit from the beginning of the project, rather than later on, with the creation of a task force to look hard at incorporating commuter rail or a bus rapid-transit system from the outset rather than at some later date.
Although there are still no guarantees for such transit and the cost is sure to be a factor, that sweetener was needed to secure votes from Rob Astorino of Westchester, C. Scott Vanderhoef of Rockland and MaryEllen Odell of Putnam. Cuomo said the construction contracts will contain incentives for contractors to save money. He gave the county executives a commitment to invest those savings in mass transit and to offset toll increases.
Cuomo has made a new bridge a priority, and after decades of studies and delays and just talk, his intense efforts to speed up the process are working. He's spent weeks building consensus and even retreated on a near-tripling of tolls when commuters expressed concerns. At the time, Cuomo said it was important to find alternatives, revenue generators and cost reductions to help make tolls affordable for commuters.
This corralling of the last holdouts of political support follows some other necessary steps in recent months: requiring developers to submit both design-and-build bids (three have done so), the fast-tracking of environmental findings, and an unprecedented outreach to communities by the governor.
There's still a way to go -- federal officials need to provide a loan, and bonds must be issued to finance the project -- but construction of a new bridge looks a lot more likely than it did just six months ago.