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Thruway Authority announces project manager for new bridge

Peter Sanderson is chosen as the project director

Peter Sanderson is chosen as the project director for the new Tappan Zee Bridge project. (Feb. 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Star-Tribune/Elizabeth Flores

The engineer who oversaw the replacement of the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed in 2007 will serve as project manager for the $3.9 billion replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, the New York State Thruway Authority announced Wednesday.

Peter Sanderson has extensive experience in overseeing complicated, high-profile bridge projects, said Thruway Authority chairman Howard Milstein, in a statement.

"The project director will be responsible for keeping the New NY Bridge on schedule and within budget, and Peter Sanderson is an outstanding choice for this role because he has extensive experience and a proven track record," Milstein said.

Sanderson will be an employee of the Thruway Authority, earning $340,000 a year, said agency spokesman Dan Weiller. The project is scheduled to take five years.

He worked in the past at Colorado-based Flatiron, a company that was among the contractors originally discussed as a potential bidder for the Tappan Zee project. Flatiron was a partner in one of the four construction consortiums that announced interest in the project. But Flatiron pulled out at the last minute, a move that prompted criticism from the Yonkers Contracting Co., one of Flatiron's partners.

Sanderson will have oversight over Tappan Zee Constructors, the Texas-based consortium chosen to build the 3.1 mile-long bridge, as well as the Thruway Authority's in-house engineers and HTNB, the external engineering company hired by the Thruway Authority to monitor the entire project.

The agency's statement noted that Sanderson has 40 years of experience building bridges, including cable-stayed spans like the planned Tappan Zee Bridge. Cable-stayed bridges are distinctive for the fanlike pattern formed by the cable supports between towers and the bridge span.

Sanderson is also experienced in "design-build" projects in which contractors are financially liable for many cost overruns, the agency's statement said.

Sanderson worked on replacing the collapsed Interstate 35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis, the Sagadahoc Bridge in Bath, Maine, and the Clark Bridge in St. Louis, the statement said. The replacement of the Minneapolis bridge finished 11 months after the collapse, three months ahead of schedule.

Sanderson understands how a bridge can become a lot more than a roadway, said Tom Sorel, the current chief executive of AAA and commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation at the time the Minneapolis bridge collapsed.

"Not only did he lead the delivery of the project in an exceptional manner, he realized that the building of the new bridge represented a healing process for an entire community and did all he could to rebuild public trust and confidence in the transportation industry," Sorel said.

The agency's statement listed an array of construction groups that supported Sanderson's hire, including Ross Pepe, president of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester and the Hudson Valley. Pepe has been a consistent booster of the bridge project, which the governor claims will attract 45,000 jobs to the region.

"The Hudson Valley region's construction industry is thrilled with Thruway Authority's appointment," Pepe said.

The agency's new release didn't say when construction would begin, but Tappan Zee Constructors is scheduled to begin setting up personnel and equipment at staging areas in South Nyack and Tarrytown next month.

The release said the state would post a budget and schedule for the project on the New NY Bridge website in May, allowing residents to track the costs and time line of the bridge work. State officials said May was the earliest they would be able to make that information public.

It's still not clear how the bridge would be financed.

The state has requested a long-term, low-interest loan of nearly $2 billion from the U.S. Department of Transportation to cover 49 percent of the bridge's cost. Neither state nor federal officials have said when the loan might be approved.

Toll rates on the new bridge are a potential stumbling block for the state's loan application. Because extra toll revenues would repay the loan, the state may have to decide on new toll rates sooner rather than later, bringing political considerations into play. When an adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year floated the idea of $14 tolls, the governor quickly distanced himself from that figure, calling it too high.

With a loan in hand, the Thruway Authority would pay for the rest of the bridge by issuing bonds. Last month, the agency moved to issue $500 million in bonds to begin the work. It has the authority to issue an additional $200 million in case it needs more cash.


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