Tappan Zee Bridge Gets Expedited Approval, But Construction May Not Start for Years

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The Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by Joseph A. via Flickr)

UPDATED The White House announced Tuesday that it will expedite permitting and environmental reviews for a new Tappan Zee Bridge, potentially the largest infrastructure job-creator in the U.S.

The White House also expedited the permitting and review processes for 13 other infrastructure projects, including new rail lines in Baltimore and Los Angeles, a housing project in Denver, and a wind power facility in Vermont.

The Tappan Zee Bridge connects New York's Rockland and Westchester Counties, and 135,000 vehicles cross it each weekday. It's over 55 years old and is in constant need of major and costly repairs.

An expedited federal review is supposed to move construction along faster by coordinating the permitting process. But the final bridge design has yet to be announced, and the White House says "the project is an ambitious one and construction will not begin for several years."

The Tappan Zee Bridge currently has no special transit capacity.  Initial plans included rail lines and bus rapid transit, but the future of transit on the bridge is unclear.

Five options for a new span are currently under review, including a "no build" alternative. Several of the options include bus rapid transit. Rail capacity looks unlikely, although it could be added later.

The Tappan Zee redesign started out as a joint project between the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New York State Thruway, but is now being  The MTA's name was absent from the press release issued by Governor Cuomo today, and no MTA officials attended his two publicly stated meetings about the bridge (8/4/11, 5/20/11).

According to DOT officials, the project has been scaled back from its initial vision. Initially part of  30-mile long transportation corridor with costs potentially exceeding $21 billion, sources say the project has been re-scoped to focus solely on the bridge.  It's currently estimated to cost $5.2 billion.

The cost of running a rail line over a new Tappan Zee Bridge had been estimated to cost $6.7 billion.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo heralded the White House announcement in a press release today, saying "the Tappan Zee project has the potential to generate more jobs than any other infrastructure project in the nation."

The DOT said the bridge "will deliver at least 33,000 job years through the duration of construction activities." But just when hiring will begin is unknown. There is no timeline for construction available yet, but the DOT said New York hopes to begin bidding the project out in August of 2012.

The governor said the bridge has an accident rate double the rest of the New York Thruway system, and also has serious vulnerabilities to extreme events such as severe storms, ship collision and earthquakes. And keeping it in good condition is both costly and unending: according to a February 2011 Wall Street Journal article, the state spent $146.8 million over the last five years on repairs, and has budgeted $148.8 million between 2010 and 2012 just to fix the Tappan Zee's deck.

The DOT said the state has indicated financing for the new bridge will primarily comes from issuing bonds secured through toll revenues. A detailed funding plan was not available. Calls to Governor Cuomo's office today were not returned.