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McKinstry: Cuomo backpedals on higher toll for Tappan Zee Bridge

The Tappan Zee bridge photographed on the north

The Tappan Zee bridge photographed on the north side during a tour provided by the New York Thruway Authority. (March 13, 2012) Credit: Rory Glaeseman

By retreating on a $14 toll on a new bridge, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo heard the public pretty loud and clear: That’s too much money. It comes about a week after his top deputy, Larry Schwartz, announced that a toll increase – in line with others in the region like the George Washington Bridge – was needed to pay for this expected $5.2 billion crossing.

“I believe the projected 2017 toll schedule based on the Federal Highway Administration’s estimate of up to $5.2 billion for the new bridge is too high,” Cuomo wrote in a letter today to the Thruway Authority. “Over the next 5 years, we must find alternatives, revenue generators and cost reductions that reduce the potential toll increases.”

That’s all well and good, but let’s hope any alternatives don’t impact construction or designs. The old span was built on the cheap, leading to an abbreviated shelf-life.

The change of heart comes after a fumbled explanation of possible tolls by cuomo’s staff resulted in a monsoon of complaints from people fearing a near tripling of the current $5 trip. The headlines weren’t good so the Cuomo PR machine followed it up with a barrage of bridge endorsements from leaders in just about every community and every level of government. It was a who’s who of Hudson Valley pols.

Not surprising there were two big names missing from the list. Republican county executives Rob Astorino from Westchester and MayEllen Odell from Putnam could stall, or kill, this project with key votes on the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. That vote is expected to take place in September.

Nonetheless, this toll development presents an interesting dilemma that sums up an ongoing question. How is the state going to pay for this bridge?

Tolls were the way, the Cuomo Administration and New York State Thruway authority had said. This new bridge would pay for itself - that plan, as unpleasant as it was for some, made financial sense.

Now Cuomo wants a panel of experts to figure all that out. They may offer larger discounts to locals and tweak the plan through some creative financing, but like it or not, it sure seems higher fees are inevitable.