The International Information Center for Structural Engineers

Thursday, 27 March 2014 10:41cat

Tappan Zee Bridge Funding Questions Remain

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Construction has begun on the new Tappan Zee Bridge Construction has begun on the new Tappan Zee Bridge AP

While the first three piles for the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York have been completed, there are still many questions remaining about how the bridge will be financed. The original three-mile long Tappan Zee Bridge was completed in 1955, and it spans the Hudson River at its widest point connecting Rockland County and Westchester County. Construction on the new bridge began last year after decades of debate over whether to repair the existing bridge or build a new one. Currently, only $1.6 billion, of the $3.9 billion it will cost to build the new bridge, has been committed to the project. New York Lawmakers and officials at the New York State Thruway Authority, the agency overseeing construction of the bridge, are trying to determine who will pay for the $2.3 billion gap in funding.

Over 138,000 cars cross the Tappan Zee Bridge each day. This figure is nearly three and a half times more than the daily traffic that used the bridge when it opened following the Korean War. Due to budget restrictions at the time, the bridge was only designed to last 50 years. Commuters pay $5 each day round trip to use the bridge. This price is kept artificially low due to the lack of other transit options serving Rockland County compared to other areas of New York. By comparison, the George Washington Bridge, also spanning the Hudson River in Upper Manhattan, costs $13. While the New York State Thruway Authority would like to cover the funding gap by increasing tolls on the bridge, many state officials and transportation finance experts believe that this will not be possible as riders could not afford any toll increases.

The $1.6 billion that has been pledged so far comes from five-year bonds that are pledged by the federal government and tied to revenue from dependable authority tolls. If one does a quick estimation of the toll amount that would cover the price of the entire project, they will find that the Thruway Authority would need to raise the toll to around $11 round trip per day. Also, the $3.9 billion cost of the bridge does not include the interest on the bonds that would need to be paid. Officials estimate the interest could add another $765 million to the project cost.

The $3.9 billion replacement cost estimate also does not include any funding to design a bus system that will use the new bridge’s dedicated lanes for buses. The bus system is supposed to increase transit ridership while reducing automobile congestion. One report states that the new bus system could cut commuting time by 25 percent and could increase ridership by 10,000 people a day.

Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s downgraded some of the Thruway Authority’s bonds last year specifically citing uncertainty over the bridge’s funding. Governor Andrew Cuomo and other state officials will continue to look for financing options for the bridge other than simply raising tolls. In the meantime, construction continues on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, and it is expected to have its westbound span open in late 2016 and its eastbound span open in late 2017.

Sources: NY TimesLohud

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