The state is disputing claims by a New York City infrastructure lawyer who has labeled the Tappan Zee one of the most dangerous bridges in the country.
"Highway bridges in New York State are inspected biannually and structural elements are numerically rated from one [lowest] to seven [highest]," said Dan Weiller, a spokesman for the New York State Thruway Authority, which oversees the bridge. "The most recent inspection of the Tappan Zee Bridge was conducted between June and December 2012, and the bridge received a rating of five."
Barry B. LePatner's 2010 book "Too Big to Fall: America's Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward" details what he calls the "perilous state of the nation's bridges" and points to the 3-mile-long Tappan Zee as one of the country's most dangerous.
"I will never go over that bridge," he told ABC TV's "20/20" show, which aired on March 15. He said the 58-year-old Hudson River span that carries as many as 170,000 vehicles daily between Westchester and Rockland counties cost $80.8 million and was designed on the cheap.
Construction on a new Tappan Zee Bridge, which is expected to cost $3.9 billion, is slated to begin this year and take about five years.
"We are building a new bridge because the cost to keep the current Tappan Zee Bridge safe for the foreseeable future is almost as much as the cost of the new bridge, without any of the benefits for drivers offered by the new bridge," Weiller said in a statement.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino acknowledged that rust is plainly visible on the Tappan Zee Bridge, but he told "20/20" that inspectors visit the bridge regularly and deem it safe. "But the day that they come and say it's not, is the day we're in for big trouble," he added.
The New York State Thruway Authority, which employs an 80-member maintenance crew dedicated to the bridge, has been replacing the span's crumbling deck.
"The Thruway Authority has spent $750 million on bridge maintenance over the past decade, which includes a multiyear project that replaced much of the original deck," Weiller noted. "It is inappropriate and unfair to motorists to offer an opinion on the condition of the bridge that is not based on facts."
A New York magazine article about the bridge in January also cited the threat from a seismic fault line found after the span was built and a drainage system that dumps water on the substructure, accelerating corrosion.