The state's bid for a nearly $2 billion federal loan to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge has been put on hold for at least another month while talks continue between officials of the Cuomo and Obama administrations, Newsday has learned.
The state's loan request is not on the agenda for the Tuesday meeting of the U.S. Department of Transportation panel that reviews loan applications from states and cities looking to use low-interest loans to repair aging bridges and tunnels, a source familiar with the negotiations says.
A federal source familiar with the negotiations said that although the state has submitted a letter stating its interest in a loan, it has not moved on to the next phase of the process -- a formal request.
The loan would come from a pool of $17 billion made available in 2012 through the Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act program.
In all, the new Tappan Zee Bridge is projected to cost $3.9 billion.
The next meeting of the panel that reviews TIFIA loan requests -- the U.S. Department of Transportation's Credit Council -- is March 12.
Some 17 months after plans for the 57-year-old bridge were put on the fast track, and two months after a design and build team was announced at an Albany news conference led by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, state officials have yet to nail down a financing plan for the new bridge. But state officials say they remain confident they will obtain a loan.
"We continue to have positive and encouraging discussions with USDOT regarding a TIFIA loan for the new New York Bridge and remain confident that the project will receive TIFIA support," said Dan Weiller, a spokesman for the New York State Thruway Authority.
Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, has made it clear Cuomo is banking on the loan.
"We won't need a plan B," Schwartz said during a Feb. 1 appearance on News12's "Newsmakers" program.
The delay in securing the federal loan has forced the state to adjust its timetable for beginning construction on the new bridge, which is expected to last five years. Last year, Cuomo administration officials were hopeful that construction would begin in early December. Then the start was pegged at early 2013. In recent weeks, the administration has said construction will begin sometime in 2013.
On Jan. 24, the State Thruway Authority board agreed to issue some $500 million in bonds so that it can begin construction on the bridge in 2013.
While the state awaits word on a loan, the number of projects from across the nation vying for the $17 billion pool of money has grown.
TIFIA rules limit loans to 49 percent of a project's total cost. The remainder of the new bridge's cost must be financed through the issuance of bonds by the Thruway Authority.
The key issue for residents is how high the state will have to raise the current $5 toll on the bridge to pay back the TIFIA loan and the bondholders.
Last summer, Cuomo said a $14 toll -- first floated by Schwartz at a community hearing -- was too high.