File photo of Governor Cuomo at the Tappan Zee Bridge on November 15, 2010 (photo by Richard Yeh/WNYC)
Although senior staffers to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have been out in force defending the proposed toll hike on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, the governor is now calling the $14 toll "too high."
It's a new chapter in a series of events that started last Thursday evening, when Larry Schwartz, the secretary to the governor, formally revealed at a community meeting that tolls on the new bridge would almost triple when it opens to traffic in 2017.
The current Tappan Zee Bridge, which connects Rockland and Westchester Counties across the Hudson River, is considered to have outlived its useful life. New York State has been working on plans to replace it for almost a decade, and Governor Cuomo has made jump-starting construction one of his priorities.
Although Cuomo had been saying that tolls on the Tappan Zee would go up when the new bridge opens to traffic in 2017, the number -- which one Albany talk show host referred to as "jaw dropping" in an interview with the governor on Friday -- caught many people off guard, and the backlash was immediate.
But today the governor struck a different tone in a letter to the New York State Thruway Authority, the agency in charge of the bridge. It was the first time Cuomo backed away from the $14 number.
"I believe the projected 2017 toll schedule based on the Federal Highway Administration’s estimate of up to $5.2 billion for the new bridge is too high," wrote Cuomo. "Over the next five years, we must find alternatives, revenue generators and cost reductions that reduce the potential toll increases." It was not immediately clear what a non-toll revenue generator would be.
To lower future tolls, the NY state is banking on lowering the projected construction costs below the federal estimate of $5.2 billion. Another option would be applying for additional grants to the state from the U.S. Department of Transportation. A spokesperson for the governor's office said that three construction bids are currently under review and that the cost will be the last piece of information to be parsed.
While it will take some time to hash out exactly how much toll revenue is required to build the new Tappan Zee, Cuomo's letter had one immediate effect: the supervisor of one Westchester town cancelled a planned meeting to protest the toll hike. "In light of the Governor’s responsiveness to the concerns of residents who object to the toll hike -- there is no need to have the meeting on August 15th," reads a notice on the Greenburgh web site.