Lawmakers seek to limit Tappan Zee Bridge toll hikes

October 2, 2013 5:23:53 AM PDT
Powerful lawmakers who warn Gov. Andrew Cuomo's mega-plan to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge north of New York City could drastically increase tolls on the bridge and on the statewide Thruway are seeking to head off big toll hikes now.

Republican Sen. Greg Ball and Democratic Assemblyman Robin Schimminger are again pushing Ball's bill to create public-private partnerships to build and manage bridges and infrastructure, to keep the cost of the $3.9 billion project from causing big toll increases. The bill had died in committee in June.

The Associated Press reported Monday that federal officials invited the state Thruway Authority to apply for a low-cost loan to cover no more than 33 percent of the project. The Cuomo administration once sought a loan to cover 49 percent.

One estimate under that earlier plan said bridge tolls would nearly triple to $14, a figure Cuomo said was too high at the time. Experts now fear the cost of private borrowing could put more strain on bridge tolls and spread to Thruway tolls or require additional taxpayer money.

"With the recent news of the federal government loan coming up short, now is the time to implement innovative public-private partnership legislation," said Ball, whose Hudson Valley district is near the bridge. "Over $14 is too high, simply raising the toll is not a sustainable solution. We can't continue to pass the tab onto those that cross the bridge and the taxpayers."

"This forward-thinking legislation creates a framework that will allow for and encourage investment in the state by private companies in order to advance the development and operation of public infrastructure," said Schimminger, who represents Erie and Niagara counties, which are served by the Thruway.

Thruway Authority spokesman Dan Weiller said Tuesday the authority remains confident of getting the loan, and has planned for the 33-percent cap for months.

He said the toll won't be $14, but he wouldn't provide another estimate. He said Ball and Schimminger's proposal would increase the cost of the project and delay its opening date and would require scrapping a contract he said saves the authority $1 billion over projections.

"The governor explicitly said last year that a $14 toll would be too high and called on the Thruway Authority to create a toll/financing task force in order to keep tolls below that level," Weiller said.