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McKinstry: Cuomo bets on a big federal loan for Tappan Zee

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks to the Newsday editorial board about the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge. (Feb. 14, 2013)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo did it.

He uttered those two words that we so often hear from our political leaders when they are afraid of getting ahead of themselves: “Cautiously optimistic.”

The governor was referring to the likelihood that the federal government will come through with a low-interest loan for the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The bridge builders like their odds –- and they should since President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union speech, spoke of the need for better infrastructure and to repair or replace 70,000 “structurally deficient” bridges across the country.

“Let's prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America,” Obama said. “And let's start right away.”

But Cuomo and the Tappan Zee team are smart not to make any bold predictions when it comes to the feds: There’s no telling how screwy things can get in Washington even with this project, which could create tens of thousands of jobs.

The loan is what’s holding up the state’s financial plan for the new bridge, which will tell us how it will pay for the $3.9-billion project. Tolls are expected to cover the borrowing. Just how high those fares go from the current $5 cash round-trip toll may be determined by the size of the federal loan. Will they be $7, $12 or $14? Presumably we'll know when that loan does, or doesn't, come through.

Cuomo, in a meeting with Newsday’s Editorial Board on Thursday, said he’s nonetheless pleased with the progress thus far and highlighted the approval of environmental review and successful bidding process that resulted in the selection of a builder whose price came in about a billion less than expected.

“Frankly, it’s been faster than I thought it could have been,” Cuomo said.

“It’s a big project,” he continued. “I’m sure we’ll have hiccups along the way, but so far it’s been better than expected.”

To the president’s point, it’s estimated that as many as 12 percent, or 17,000, bridges in New York aren’t up to snuff. The Tappan Zee is the most visible of them, a point that Jon Stewart drove home on “The Daily Show” earlier this week.

“Shouldn’t you have led the speech with that one,” Stewart yelled in his opening monologue, before citing a few failing bridges including the Tappan Zee.

“Seriously, that one is … wooow,” Stewart said of the Hudson River crossing, waving his hand as if the structure could collapse at any moment.

The massive Erector Set look-a-like needs to be replaced and ought to be a poster project for the president’s “Fix It First.” The money can't come soon enough.

But given the state of affairs in Washington, caution is always in order.
 

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