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Editorial: New milestone for the new Tappan Zee

Workers continue early construction of pilings, from barges,

Workers continue early construction of pilings, from barges, just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge crossing from Westchester to Rockland County, in the background. These pilings will allow boring to ascertain the composition of the riverbed and a pile driving project that will determine the load capacity of seven locations in the future path of the bridge. (March 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

Less than a year after the Obama administration designated it a national priority, replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge has cleared its biggest hurdle with federal approval of the project's environmental review.

With its endorsement, the U.S. Department of Transportation ensured that construction can begin on one of the country's largest infrastructure projects -- a new Hudson River bridge that will be safer and have greater capacity. Construction will also create thousands of jobs.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday he even exhaled as this complicated piece had him "holding his breath." Rejection by the feds could have stalled or even stopped the new bridge.

Perhaps as important is that this milestone should improve the state's chances of qualifying for sought-after low-interest federal loans that should lower costs, estimated at $5.2 billion.

Securing the federal backing in 11 months is remarkable when you consider the average timeframe for similar projects is more than six years. It's also notable given where this project was a decade ago -- dead in the water.

Groundbreaking is slated for this year and a builder could be chosen within weeks. This announcement follows the creation of a design team aimed at ensuring a new span looks good, too.

There are still unknowns -- true cost, potential for toll increases, a detailed financial plan and the potential construction impacts on communities -- but many of those questions should be answered soon as this new bridge moves ahead.