The big Tappan Zee stall continues

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

A full year after the official start of construction on a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, Governor Cuomo still isn’t leveling with New Yorkers on how he will pay for the $4 billion project, Nicole Gelinas and I write in New York Post op-ed today.

It’s obvious tolls will have to go up sooner or later, and the latest budget for the Cuomo-controlled Thruway Authority actually targets a nearly 50 percent systemwide toll hike over the next three years. But there’s still been no firm commitment to a long-term toll schedule, and as Cuomo gears up for his re-election campaign, some big unanswered questions are still hanging out there. For example, how soon will tolls go up, and will the added charges be divided between Tappan Zee commuters and drivers on the rest of the statewide Thruway system?

Having already sustained two credit rating downgrades due to its failure to commit to a toll plan, the Authority made this promise in its December bond prospectus:

“The Authority has stated that it will form a toll and finance task force to assist the Board and management to identify new revenues and low cost resources to aid int he financing of the New NY Bridge Project and to mitigate the impact on local residents and commuters. The Authority expects to form this task force by the end of 2013.” [emphasis added]

It’s two weeks since the end of 2013–but as of as this morning, the task force hasn’t been formed (unless the Authority or the governor’s is sitting on an announcement).

Why is this a big deal?  Because the longer the governor puts off the day of reckoning on a financing plan for the bridge, the more it will cost in the long run.  As it is, for the first time since the initial segment of the statewide toll highway opened 60 years ago, the Thruway Authority is so strapped for cash that it has started getting what amounts to a $90 million a year subsidy from the state budget’s general fund.

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- E.J. McMahon is the Research Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.