NY Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli signs off on Tappan Zee Bridge contract
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Two days after DiNapoli told Newsday he would do a "thorough review" of the Thruway Authority project, his office issued a news release indicating its work was done.
DiNapoli cautioned that his approval doesn't mean he won't be taking a closer look at two issues still to be decided -- a clear-cut financing plan and how high tolls will have to climb above the current $5 to pay for the bridge.
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"The Thruway Authority is responsible for proposing a financing plan and must live up to its commitment to pursue the lowest cost options and ensure that its customers are paying the lowest possible tolls," DiNapoli said. "Every effort must be taken to minimize costs for this project and protect the long-term fiscal health of the Thruway system."
Now that the comptroller and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have approved the contract, the state can move ahead with efforts to secure a low-interest federal loan considered the centerpiece of the state's financing plan.
"The final approval on this contract is another milestone for the new bridge project that is now ready to break ground this year," said Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. "After a decade of delay, we now have a final approved bid that will give the Hudson Valley a new bridge with the best price, the shortest construction time, require the least amount of dredging and be a foundation for future mass transit. The transformation of this bridge project represents what state government can accomplish in the new New York."
While state officials say they're confident they can get a loan to pay for at least a third of the project's cost, the U.S. Department of Transportation has yet to indicate whether it will offer strong support for one of the nation's largest pending capital works projects.
A DOT panel that reviews requests from states and cities looking to repair aging bridges and tunnels did not take up the issue at a Tuesday meeting. The panel's next scheduled meeting is Feb. 12 in Washington. It's unclear whether the Tappan Zee project will make it onto the agenda for that meeting.
Cuomo administration officials recently revised their timetable for getting construction under way -- from December 2012 to early 2013.
The administration is pushing for a federal loan from the loan system created by the Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act. Administration officials hope the loan will cover 49 percent of the project's total cost, now estimated to be about $3.9 billion. The balance would be paid by issuing Thruway Authority bonds. All the money would have to be paid back from toll revenues.
"The next steps taken by the authority must demonstrate similar dedication to limiting financing costs and ensuring the lowest possible tolls for its customers consistent with the authority's financial obligations," Charlotte Breeyear, the director of the comptroller's contracts bureau, wrote in a letter delivered to state officials Friday.
Last year, a storm of opposition forced Cuomo officials to back away from a suggestion that tolls would have to increase to $14 to pay for the new bridge. They have delayed any announcement of a new toll proposal until details of their financing plan are worked out.
Tappan Zee Constructors, a consortium led by Fluor Enterprises of Irving, Texas, came in with the lowest bid among three consortiums shortlisted for the project last year. The total cost of the new bridge will likely climb to about $3.9 billon when ancillary and support costs are factored in, state officials say.
The new dual-span bridge will include eight lanes for traffic as well as shoulders and breakdown lanes that the current bridge does not have. It will also include three high speed E-ZPass lanes and a path for bicycles and pedestrians. It will be built in a way that will allow for the addition of mass transit features in the future, officials have said.
Current plans call for a single, dedicated rush-hour bus lane.