New York State took another big step toward replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge when it got pre-clearance for a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The $1.5-billion loan has generous repayment terms and would cover more than one-third of the expected $3.9-billion price tag. While the federal government's final approval is contingent on credit reviews, expectations are that when all the numbers are crunched, the check will be in the mail to Albany.
New York will be among the larger, if not the largest, recipients from a $17-billion federal pot for such projects. The state will receive the maximum amount permitted, 33 percent, under the federal Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act.
But how much will it cost to drive over this new bridge?
Even if all goes according to plan, there are fears that it will cost as much as other Hudson River crossings, such as the George Washington Bridge, which at $13, is more than double what the Tappan Zee costs. It's too early to know exactly how much a round-trip will cost when this bridge opens, targeted for 2018, but expectations that the cash toll will still be $5 aren't realistic. Will it be $9, $10 or even $12? The answer will depend on how much more money Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Thruway Authority can find to replace the crumbling Tappan Zee.
Some answers may come from the governor's Toll Task Force, which is charged with finding alternative funding streams and creative options such as selling naming rights, tapping other sources of government dollars or jiggering the state budget.
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None of those will be easy and none should hold up the development of a sound financing plan. There isn't even a framework of a plan yet.
Given the magnitude of the project, which went nowhere for years, Cuomo has said he expects "hiccups along the way." But the process has nonetheless gone better than expected, and the loan announcement continues this series of positive developments. Yet the progress is an important reminder that the critical pieces are still lacking: notably a plan on how to pay for all of it.