As Cuomo Wins Support for Bridge With No Dedicated Transit Lanes, Funding Request Barrels Forward

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo took to the podium at a marina in Piermont, NY, to talk about building a new Tappan Zee Bridge (in background). (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY – WNYC) It's going to take at $5.4 billion to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River north of New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the project a big push Monday by sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, asking for a $2 billion loan. Cuomo inked the request in front of a small crowd at a marina in the riverside town of Piermont, NY, that he might flourish his pen with the old, and beleaguered, Tappan Zee Bridge in the background.

But the new funding plans include no guarantee that the new bridge will have any form of public transportation, aside from a bus lane.

"The Tappan Zee Bridge is a metaphor for dysfunction," Cuomo said before the signing. He claimed the first plans to replace the bridge were developed before the turn of the millennium, as the bridge neared 50 years old.  "Think of all the hours in traffic people have been sitting on the bridge because that hasn't gotten done, how many wasted dollars patching that bridge," he said. "Think of all the pollution."

It took Cuomo many months to get to the moment. Key members of the The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, whose approval was needed before the loan could be requested, balked at a plan for the bridge that included no provision for a mass transit operation beyond a bus: options such as rail, light rail or a Bus Rapid Transit system linking to transportation hubs on either side of the Hudson. Cuomo won the votes of those officials by agreeing to form a task force to examine the issue and come up with recommendations.

There is also the question about where the state will get the rest of the money to pay for the massive construction project.  A Cuomo aide  recently raised the possibility of raising the bridge's $5 toll to $14 when the new bridge opens.  But after an outcry, the governor mounted a pro-bridge public relations plan, and then distanced himself from his own staffer's remarks.  Cuomo is known for running a tightly controlled administration, where subordinates generally don't speak out of turn.

In the Piermont speech, Cuomo merely promised to "keep tolls affordable."

And what if, the press asked Cuomo, the federal government doesn't come through with the loan? "I'm an optimist," he said. "They're going to say, 'yes.'" When asked if tolls would be raised even higher if the loan didn't come through, Cuomo repeated, "They're going to say, 'yes.'" Then repeated it a few more times.