NY in stiff competition for federal funding for Tappan Zee

A view of the Tappan Zee Bridge from A view of the Tappan Zee Bridge from the Riverwalk Park in Tarrytown. (Feb. 28, 2012) Photo Credit: Chris Serico

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration is facing a growing list of competitors in its bid to secure $2.9 billion in low-interest federal loans to help bankroll the Tappan Zee Bridge project.

Nineteen projects are now vying for the $17 billion pool of federal transportation dollars made available this summer under a program that hands out loans at rock-bottom interest rates for states and cities looking to upgrade aging infrastructure.

Two mega-projects -- one from Louisiana, another from the Washington area -- put in their bids Friday, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is looking for federal help to finance the second phase of a 23-mile, 11-station extension of the Metrorail system to Dulles Airport and beyond.

The cost of the Silver Line project has been pegged at $6 billion, rivaling the estimated $5.9 billion price tag for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Louisiana is seeking some $631 million in highway improvement funds.

All told, projects valued at $27.5 billion from a dozen states and cities are vying for the $17 billion pool of money offered through the Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act. Texas leads with five separate requests.

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When the Cuomo administration put in its bid for the funding in September, it was competing with 10 other projects valued at $16 billion.

Under TIFIA rules, the federal government can fund a maximum of 49 percent of a project. That means that currently there are requests for roughly $13.6 billion out of the $17 billion pool.

Should that money dry up before the Tappan Zee project is funded, there's no telling when a vast pool of money would come available again.

State officials on Tuesday declined to comment on the latest additions to the federal project list.

But in recent months, the Cuomo administration acknowledged that there would be heavy competition coming from across the nation, particularly since much of the interstate highway system is more than 60 years old and badly in need of repair.

"Regardless of how much TIFIA support we receive, we remain confident that the financial plan for the project will ensure that the new bridge is completed in a timely manner and without creating an excessive burden on tollpayers," State Thruway Authority Executive Director Tom Madison said last month.

Officials did not detail where money would come from if they are turned down for the federal funding.

In its bid for federal dollars, the Cuomo administration highlighted the bridge's importance to the Northeast region's economy as a cross-state link for trucks coming from New Jersey and Connecticut.

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The administration's $2.9 million request is the maxium amount of money it could ask from the federal government. It anticipates raising the remainder of the cost by issuing bonds through the State Thruway Authority.

The state said it will pay back the money by raising tolls on the 3.2 mile-span that connects Rockland and Westchester counties.

So far, the Cuomo administration has not said how high tolls would be increased. This summer, the administration backed off its own proposal for a $14 toll by 2014, when the project is expected to be finished.

The current one-way toll is $5, $4.75 with the E-ZPass discount.

Cuomo has said he wants to break ground by the end of the year for a new bridge. Political observers say Cuomo would like to get the project done while a Democrat friendly to the interests of a Democratic governor is still in the White House.

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For a full list of the TIFIA projects that are pending, visit http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ipd/tifia/letters_interest_applications/letters_submitted_2013.htm.

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