Thomas Madison, the head of the New York State Thruway Authority, knows the $5 billion-dollar question is how the state will pay for its planned replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge. But he's able to maintain a sense of humor about the uncertainty.
Speaking Thursday morning at a breakfast sponsored by the Citizens Budget Commission, Madison pointed to his presentation about the bridge and said: "I'm going to go through these slides fairly quickly, because I understand there's a lot of questions on how we're going to finance the project that I can't answer -- so I will hedge those after the presentation."
But he did impart some information about how the state will fund what is expected to be a $5 billion to $6 billion cost: "The principal way -- and the predominant way -- will be toll-backed Thruway bonds. There's been talk about pension funds, or some other private equity introduction into the process. Those discussions continue, but ultimately this will be a publicly funded project."
Madison said the "hard target" for a financial plan is August, when the federal government is expected to sign off on the project, but it could come sooner.
- New York continues to pursue federal funding for the project and will reapply for a $2 billion federal loan
- While the state is "confident" it will get that loan, it's also exploring other federal grant possibilities
- Any private money won't come in the form of a public/private partnership, because the state lacks that legislative authority.
- There's "no intent" to raise tolls -- but it's the state's goal to be consistent with other area crossings. And "the bridge itself and the New York State Thruway system generally is the biggest bargain in terms of toll roads in the Northeast." (Currently, the undiscounted toll for crossing the Tappan Zee is $5; the cash toll for the George Washington Bridge is $12.)
- This is a roads project, not a transit one. "The Thruway Authority does not own or operate or maintain any transit systems today and we're not in the transit business." The bridge will be built so as to "not preclude" a bus rapid transit or rail line in the future. But as it stands today, "we can't afford to incorporate a full transit system beyond the bridge itself."
- The MTA is giving the state information about loading capacity to make sure that's included in the design of the new bridge.
- But what will the new Tappan Zee look like? "We will know the design of the bridge when we receive the proposals from the four teams (currently bidding on the project); right now that is slated for the end of July."
- Even though the bridge is being expanded significantly, "capacity will still be an issue... so we're going to incorporate some intelligent transportation systems to manage the traffic better."
- No news on what might happen to the existing bridge when the new one is operational. Madison said the contract calls for its demolition (which will cost $150 million). And the state is exploring "repurposing it," the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers have some "serious reservations."
Meanwhile, preliminary work on the new bridge is in full swing on the Hudson. And Madison said starting Friday, "they're going to start driving these ten-foot-in-diameter, 180-foot-long piles down into the riverbed, and then they actually weld another 180-foot pipe on top of that, and continue driving it down."
This, he said, will give the companies bidding on the project information they need on the bedrock and substrate.
You can see Thomas Madison's presentation here.