Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to the state Thruway Authority with recommendations on how to improve the planned $5.2 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. He wrote that he thinks the projected 2017 toll schedule based on the Federal Highway Administration’s estimate for the new bridge is too high—the cash toll would be $14, up from $5 now, with lower rates for commuters and E-ZPass users.
The state must find “alternatives, revenue generators and cost reductions” in the five years before the new bridge is expected to be unveiled, he wrote. For many residents of Westchester and Rockland counties, “the bridge is the only practical crossing for commuting, shopping and visiting family.”
The governor also suggested a selection panel that “goes beyond the usual technical and structural experts” and includes architects, historians of the river towns, international design experts, local officials from the counties and residents.
“It is a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project in an environmentally sensitive area in one of the world’s most beautiful regions,” he wrote. “There are many factors to consider including cost, engineering and transportation – but also the landscape, design, the fit with the natural beauty of the Hudson River, and the interests of the citizens in the surrounding communities.”
The governor asked the Thruway Authority to work with his administration and convene a task force of Thruway, state, federal and local officials to work on reducing projected toll hikes. The group should work with members of Congress to obtain the maximum federal funding possible, expand discount programs for Westchester and Rockland residents, reduce the cost of credit and borrowing and ensuring that any increase in tolls goes to the bridge and regional transportation.
Cuomo also wrote that he is pleased plans for the bridge would allow for the future addition of mass-transit options like commuter rail or a bus rapid-transit system. The bridge will include a dedicated bus lane from the start. Building a new bridge, rather than repairing the existing one, will serve commuters better in the end, he said.
“Replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge will be the largest project of its kind in New York in decades, and like any effort of this scale presents challenges. New York has a history of innovation, inclusion and of rising to the most difficult of tests,” he said.