Tappan Zee Bridge: New York to get up to $1.6B federal loan
The Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project was approved Thursday for a $1.6 billion federal loan, a development that allows officials to finalize plans for toll increases that will pay for the $3.9 billion effort.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the loan — the largest of its kind the U.S. Department of Transportation has ever awarded — “truly extraordinary.”
“New York state is on the move,” Cuomo said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. “Government is working. We’re getting things done and we’re performing for the people of the state.”
He also praised Rep. Nita Lowey, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. She represents parts of Rockland and Westchester counties.
Cuomo said she “was tenacious in her advocacy,” to secure the loan and “could not have worked harder and could not have had more success.”
Thursday’s announcement comes more than a year after New York State Thruway Authority submitted a $1.58 billion loan request to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or TIFIA, program. It also comes days after Standard & Poor’s gave the Thruway an A long-term bond rating, down from the A+ rating it had.
Credit analysts said the downgrade stems from uncertainty over how much tolls will increase to pay for the replacement project.
In addition to the TIFIA loan, the Thruway Authority will issue $2.4 billion in bonds to cover Tappan Zee replacement costs, Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison said.
He said Thursday that securing the TIFIA loan allows officials to create a more detailed financial plan for the project.
Asked whether toll revenue from the whole Thruway system or just Tappan Zee Bridge will be used, Madison said officials haven’t decided. Cuomo said a toll and finance task force will be formed to look at the options.
“I’m looking forward to the recommendations of that group,” Cuomo said.
The TIFIA loan was approved “following a thorough assessment” that included a full creditworthiness review, the DOT said in a statement.
State officials said the interest rate for the loan will be set when the agreement is finalized in December. On Thursday, the rate stood at 3.6 percent, according to the TIFIA website.
Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said in a statement that “taxpayers should feel some relief” about the loan approval, but “the loan is just one piece of a complex, unfinished financial puzzle.”
She blasted the Thruway Authority for not releasing a more detailed plan with projected toll increases, “despite having indicated the financial plan would be released by the end of October,” she said.
The cash toll on the Tappan Zee is $5, but drivers with E-ZPass and commuter plans pay less. Last year a Cuomo aide predicted that the cash toll would rise to $14 to pay for the bridge replacement, an amount Cuomo said was too high.
He directed the Thruway Authority to create a task force to look at how the toll could be lowered. Panel members have not yet been named.
Gannett Albany Bureau writers Joe Spector and Jon Campbell contributed to this report.