The federal government has given its final approval to New York State's plans to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. It's the final regulatory hurdle the $5 billion project had to cross before the state could award a contract and begin construction.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo was elated by the Department of Transportation's decision, which is the result of a year-long sprint by his administration to fast-track plans to replace the 56-year old bridge linking Westchester and Rockland Counties.
"From my point of view, that was the most difficult step all along here," Cuomo said. "Building the bridge is actually the easy part. Relative to the environmental review, it's a straightforward task. "
The environmental review is a 10,000 page document laying out the environmental impact the project will have on the surrounding Hudson River area -- and demonstrates how the state will conform to federal law.
"It doesn't build the bridge -- we still have to pick a contractor, we still have to work out the financing," said the governor, "but the environmental review is basically completed."
The state is currently reviewing bids from three contractors. Once a team is picked, which is expected to be later this year, it will be constructing the bridge under New York's new design-build legislation. Last week, the governor named a design team to help review the bids and provide aesthetic guidance.
But one big question has yet to be answered: how the state will pay for the new bridge. New York is in the process of requesting a low-interest loan from the federal government, and Cuomo has said that the basic source of financing will come from tolls. But the state has yet to release a comprehensive finance plan.
Still, the governor said, the hardest step was in the rear-view mirror. "I'm going to exhale today," he said.