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New Tappan Zee Taps Other Funds

New Tappan Zee Taps Other Funds
Public Authorities Control Board authorizes first of two $256 million loans from clean water fund

A state board on Wednesday approved half of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to use clean water funds to help finance construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The Public Authorities Control Board authorized the $256 million, five-year, no interest loan from the Environmental Facilities Corp. after two members noted federal authorities haven't signed off yet and the full project cost and future bridge and highway toll hikes are still unknown.

“The Tappan Zee Bridge is an essential bridge for the state of New York," state Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican and board member, said afterward. He said that the funding has to come from someplace and that he believes there's enough flexibility in the environmental law to allow this use.

He said he'll consider withholding approval for the next loan if he's still lacking a full accounting of the cost and expected toll hikes.

The Thruway Authority's request for a second $256 million loan at 4 percent interest, originally on Wednesday's agenda, was postponed. Officials said it will be resubmitted to get more funding in 2016. Thruway Authority Executive Director Tom Madison said they expect no toll increases next year and the low-cost loans will help keep future toll increases lower.

Defrancisco said the documents he's reviewed show a 50 percent increase in toll revenues needed in 2017, the year after the new twin spans are projected to open.

Environmentalists called it an inappropriate use of funds meant for drinking water and sewage treatment projects. In a letter prepared in advance of the board's expected loan approval, a dozen groups asked the state's Authorities Budget Office to investigate the EFC, alleging its board members failed in their fiduciary duty when approving both loans last month.

Approving only the first loan Wednesday didn't blunt their criticism.

"It's lipstick on a pig," said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and a former state conservation commissioner.

But Thruway and EFC officials said their novel financing approach is authorized under state and federal environmental law, and that money will be used for parts of the project to protect the Hudson River estuary and its fish, including a percentage of overall design and construction costs.

State Budget Director Robert Megna, Cuomo's board representative, and Philip Field, representing Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, joined DeFrancisco in approving the loan Wednesday.

Total costs for the project have been estimated at $3.9 billion. The existing bridge north of New York City, which carries about 140,000 vehicles daily, opened in 1955 and will be torn down.