(New York, NY - WNYC) Step right up, we've got money for loans. That was essentially today's message from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to states with large public transportation works in the planning. That includes rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, about which LaHood and his chief financial officer spoke positively, if vaguely.
“We have heard from very high officials in the state of New York about this project and we have directed them to the notice in the federal register,” said LaHood, referring to today's official announcement that the grant money is available.
In February, the state applied for a $2 billion loan for the Tappan Zee Bridge from the U.S. DOT fund known as TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). But TIFIA turned it down.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been undeterred. He continues to apply political muscle to the project: this week, he appointed a former TV anchorman as Special Advisor to the The Tappan Zee Bridge. But he has yet to explain how the estimated $5.2 billion cost of the rebuilding will be funded. Given the state's limited finances, it would seem to behoove the governor to scoop up some of that TIFIA cash.
TIFIA functions as the U.S. DOT's infrastructure investment arm. In the past, it has paid for projects like an upgrade to the Staten Island Ferry and an extension to the President George Bush Turnpike in West Texas.
The fund is newly infused with $1.7 billion from the recently enacted federal surface transportation bill. LaHood said that money can be leveraged into $17 billion worth of "loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to major infrastructure projects with the potential to create jobs and spur economic development and growth." That's a big jump up from the last round of $120 million, which was used to dole out $1.2 billion in loans.
U.S. DOT chief financial officer Chris Bertram said the department favors projects that have "a revenue source like a dedicated sales tax or, in the case of the Tappan Zee Bridge, tolls." He said that reassures the department it will be paid back.
Department spokesman Justin Nisly said the sooner a grant application is received, the sooner it will be dealt with. "We will begin evaluating letters of interest immediately, and announcements will be made on a rolling basis."
U.S. DOT will also launch a unit that will help state and local governments figure out how to finance their transportation projects. According to a press release, the Project Finance Center will act as a wise uncle to bureaucrats seeking "to analyze financial options for highway, transit, rail, intermodal and other surface transportation projects facing funding challenges."