There's still no word from the U.S. Department of Transportation on whether the state has locked down a $1.5 billion loan to begin heavy construction on the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The U.S. Department of Transportation panel that reviews loan requests was not expected to take up the State Thruway Authority's Tappan Zee request at its monthly meeting Tuesday in Washington, a source said.

The feds are still working through the authority's application for a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan, which bankrolls efforts to fix up the nation's aging bridges, tunnels and highways.

State and federal officials confirmed last month that the Tappan Zee Bridge project has been promised a $1.5 billion loan to kick-start funding for a bridge whose cost has been pegged at around $4 billion.

State officials have said the loan will not be granted out until the feds conducted another level of review to determine -- among other things -- whether the Thruway Authority is a good credit risk.

"Negotiations on the terms of the $1.5 billion TIFIA loan for the New NY Bridge are ongoing," said Dan Weiller, a Thruway Authority spokesman.

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Meanwhile, the state already has started preconstruction soil sampling in the Hudson River, work that is being financed by a $500 million infusion of cash from the sale of Thruway Authority bonds in January. Barges streaming out of the coast of Louisiana began appearing in the waters beneath the bridge March 25.

Newsday has learned that the cost of the project could run an additional $645 million when financing for the bonds and the costs of staging areas is factored into the final tab.

Dozens of projects from across the nation -- with a total value of $41 billion -- are competing for a portion of the $17 billion made available through the TIFIA program in the fall.

Typically, TIFIA will fund up to a third of the cost of a project, although the maximum allowed is 49 percent. The rest must be made up by local funding.

State officials were pushing for the 49 percent maximum but said they were happy to have secured the $1.5 billion, which is believed to be the largest loan the TIFIA program has handed out.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, an outspoken champion of the bridge project, said the $1.5 billion loan would "help keep tolls affordable for motorists" because the total cost came in lower than early estimates that the twin-span bridge would cost $5.2 billion to build.

All of the money borrowed for the project will be paid back by increasing the current $5 toll on the bridge. Thruway Authority officials say they also are working to identify other revenue sources to aid with the bridge's funding to help keep tolls down.

Experts say the eventual toll could run between $8 and $10, less than the $14 that George Washington Bridge motorists will pay come December 2014.