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Editorial: New bridge or old, higher tolls at Tappan Zee

The toll plaza at the current Tappan Zee

The toll plaza at the current Tappan Zee Bridge. Photo Credit: Newsday/David Pokress, 1996

If the $5.2-billion projected sticker price for a new Tappan Zee Bridge doesn't bring on car sickness, then a near-tripling of the existing $5 round-trip toll for those without special discounts might do the job for the region's drivers.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration in recent days projected that a round-trip hike to a cash toll of $14 is in the works, starting in 2017. Yet as awful as they might sound to motorists, higher tolls are a realistic and responsible way to pay for a new Hudson River crossing, especially when you consider that New York isn't flush with cash.

The goal is to have a self-sustaining model that doesn't cost state taxpayers more. So tolls must cover the cost of construction, and bridge users will carry the load.

Another rationale for the higher toll is that the bridge's round-trip rate should be comparable to others in the region, such as the $12 it now costs, and $15 by 2015, at the George Washington Bridge 24 miles to the south. That logic makes sense, even if it stings a little.

But commuters on the new span would get a discount: Occasional E-ZPass riders would pay $13.30, and daily commuters just under $9.

A new bridge is sorely needed, and after a decade of studies and little movement, Cuomo deserves credit for fast-tracking this infrastructure project, which is expected to create 45,000 jobs.

The Tappan Zee was built on the cheap in 1955 when it was more than sufficient to handle 18,000 vehicle crossings each day. Now, it is an inadequate, outdated money pit: The state dumped $750 million into its maintenance over the last decade and estimated it would need another $3 billion to $4 billion to keep the bridge functioning another 20 years. It handles 138,000 crossings daily, and the corridor has an accident rate that is double the rest of the state's highway system.

Although any toll hike isn't final yet, the need for a new bridge isn't in dispute.

And consider this: The round trip toll would go up to $12 just to cover basic repairs on the existing bridge, according to the Cuomo administration, or about $7.20 for commuters.

Either way, drivers pay more. A new, modern bridge sounds like a better investment.