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Tappan Zee Bridge: Work won't begin until summer, Astorino says

An artist's rendition of the design for the

An artist's rendition of the design for the new Tappan Zee Bridge that was selected by a panel of experts as the best value among the three proposals submitted. The winning design must be approved by the State Thruway Authority. (Dec. 5, 2012) Photo Credit:

Crews are likely to begin preparations for construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge soon, but probably will not start work on the bridge itself until at least late June, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said Thursday.

"The staging will probably begin in a month or so and some actual work will probably begin in the summer," said Astorino, responding to a question from the audience after he delivered a speech to business leaders at a Westchester County Association meeting in Tarrytown.

The Republican county executive -- a member of the panel appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to study mass transit options for the $3.1 billion bridge -- said state officials had told him of the schedule.

Brian Conybeare, the governor's public outreach coordinator for the new bridge, declined to comment.

Astorino's statements suggest that Tappan Zee Constructors, the Texas-based consortium chosen Dec. 17 to build the bridge, soon will be establishing its base of operations for the project. The consortium will need parking, materials and equipment storage, offices and other facilities near the construction site.

The timeline envisioned by Astorino is a lot less aggressive than the Cuomo administration's original timeline. In 2012, the outreach team put together by Cuomo to explain and promote the bridge project talked about breaking ground in December 2012. The new bridge likely will take about five years to build.

Astorino said concerns about fish habitat played a major role in determining when dredging, pile driving and other heavy construction could start. Those comments match up with the state Department of Environmental Conservation's draft permit for the megaproject, which states that dredging can occur only from August to November to avoid upsetting spawning sturgeon.

The dredging would clear a path for large barges to navigate the river and haul materials and equipment to the job site. State officials will conduct hearings on the draft permit in February.

Astorino was critical of Cuomo's silence on financing for the new bridge.

"It's a five-year project with, quite frankly, at this point still no answers on how they are going to pay for it," he said.

The governor wants to fund 49 percent of the bridge's cost with a long-term, low-interest loan from the federal Department of Transportation. State Thruway Authority bonds would provide the rest of the funding.

The Department of Transportation has yet to even consider the loan, in part because Cuomo hasn't decided on the toll increases necessary to fund the new bridge. Congressional sources have said that information on the toll increases will be a key factor in the evaluating the state's loan application.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has signaled that the New York State will receive a loan. It's unclear whether the department will grant the full amount the state is requesting. Cuomo has said the state will build the span with or without the federal loan, but he hasn't said how.

"They have not released what the tolls are going to be," Astorino said. "They have not received the loan from the federal government yet. The Thruway Authority has junk bond status. So it's still a question mark how they are going to pay for this bridge, which obviously concerns some of us."

Astorino's characterization of the Thruway Authority's credit rating was more colorful than accurate. Although the authority's finances have been criticized by state officials, including Cuomo, Moody's rates its credit as Aa2, its third-highest ranking, with a negative outlook, indicating concern about the future.

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