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McKinstry: Cuomo gets help on new Tappan Zee Bridge toll (and pretzel math)

A view of the Tappan Zee Bridge from

A view of the Tappan Zee Bridge from the Westchester River Walk in Tarrytown. (Aug 2, 2012) Credit: Faye Murman

After taking a drubbing over the likelihood of increasing tolls on the Tappan Zee Bridge to $14, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called in air support over the weekend.

Three former Westchester County executives and several state and local lawmakers from Rockland came out to Tarrytown on Sunday to support the governor’s efforts to build a new bridge, and to say they backed his plan to pay for it: With a near tripling of the bridge’s current $5 round-trip toll.

Alfred DelBello, Andrew O’Rourke and Andy Spano, two Democrats and a Republican, all backed the plan to build the new bridge and agreed that when the new crossing charge is implemented in 2017, it wouldn’t be much more. They’re billing it as just about a buck more for a commuter.

The math isn’t really as simple as a rise from $5 to $6 for a round-trip. The Cuomo administration explains it this way:

Tolls are going up regardless of whether there’s a new bridge or an old bridge. Cuomo says a new bridge with a projected price tag of $5.2 billion is the best option; far better than spending $3 billion to $4 billion on a rehab job.

We agree on that. (See today’s editorial).

Under this new-build proposal, a $14 toll would apply, but a discounted commuter plan would cost $8.40 round-trip on the new bridge. (With the repair plan, tolls would go to to $12, or $7.20 for a commuter.)

By all that complicated math, with a new bridge, the $8.40 round-trip would be a $1.20 higher than $7.20. That’s where the roughly $1 increase officials are touting comes from.

Sunday’s announcement came after a two-day whirlwind of news coverage that included plenty of irate drivers from both sides of the Hudson River slamming any increase. You’ve got to figure the $14 round-trip sticker shock was enough to send any driver looking for an alternate way across the Hudson ... like a canoe or kayak.

Officials at the news conference stressed the need to build the bridge.

“We've all dealt with this issue over the years ... but the most important thing now is to get a new fully functional bridge in place," said Del Bello, a Westchester County executive from 1974 to 1982 and lieutenant governor under Cuomo’s father, Mario. "The issue of the tolls is five years down the road. Right now, we need to focus solely on the issue of replacing the bridge."

State Assemb. Ken Zebrowski (D-New City), state Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) and Town of Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence were also on hand, according to Newsday’s report.

This sure seemed like an attempt to reclaim the conversation after the higher-toll figure was first announced Thursday night at a community meeting in Rockland. And while the plan makes sense when you consider billions will be spent under the different bridge options, it’s unlikely to soften the blow for any drivers who are going to have pay more.

There’s some wiggle room on a final toll, so you have to figure this is a conversation that Cuomo and his community action team will be having for some time to come.