New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be getting less money than expected to finance part of the construction of the new Tappan Zee bridge — at least for now.
The governor had initially sought more than $500 million dollars from an environmental loan fund controlled by the New York State Environmental Facilities Corp. But environmentalists, newspaper editorial boards and even federal regulators questioned how much of the request qualified as water quality projects. The Public Authorities Control Board, a state panel made up of representatives from the legislature as well as the governor, approved just $256 million, half of the original amount, Wednesday afternoon.
State Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse, took credit for getting the loan cut in two until next year. He cast the deciding vote to go ahead with the loan, but not before expressing reservations.
“I don’t want a plan to be named later and then the bridge is half way up,” DeFrancisco said. “And then under those circumstances we have to figure out where we’re going to get the additional money.”
Afterward, DeFrancisco said he thought the loan was part of a plan to postpone any toll hikes on the state Thruway until after this fall's elections. He said he was still unhappy that neither he, nor the public, has received a complete financial plan for the building of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.
“Borrow money and then pay for it out of tolls,” said DeFrancisco. “That’s the total plan.”
But Thruway Authority Executive Director Tom Madison, who attended the meeting, denied that the loan was part of an effort to put off toll hikes, though he added it was “fair to say” there would be an increase in tolls at some point in the future.
“This is about extraordinary environmental protections unprecedented in many ways in New York and across the country,” Madison said. “We’re proud that this is the first time that federal clean water monies are being used on a highway bridge project, which the law allows for.”
A group of 12 environmental and transportation organizations immediately called for an investigation by the state Authorities Budget Office. They say the project was rushed through and there was no way board members could have fully analyzed all the information before they acted.
“We don’t believe they followed the fiduciary responsibilities that they took an oath on,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York.