February 12, 2021
Last year toll hikes were approved for the New York Thruway and the Mario Cuomo Bridge. This will be the first of many toll hikes in coming years. Blaming lost revenues due to COVID-19 for toll hikes doesn't tell the whole truth. Motorists and taxpayers still have to await the final outcome of the Tappan Zee Bridge construction contractors lawsuit against the State Thruway Authority for $961 million plus interest for the additional incurred costs for work not compensated. This includes overtime for project schedule acceleration and change orders to the base contract for additional work. What is the real relationship of the new toll hikes to cover these potential costs?
Toll hikes are how Governor Cuomo always intended to find several billion to pay for construction. The real final price tag for construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge instead of $3.9 billion may end up closer to $5 billion. The NYC Citizens Budget Commission previously reported that tolls on the new bridge will likely increase from $5.00 to $10.50 over time.
Cuomo made a cold political calculation by promising not to raise the tolls when running for another term in 2018. To pay back the $1.6 billion dollar Federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Improvement Act (TIFIA) loan and $1 billion Thruway Authority Bond, as well as up to $961 million in final payment to the contractor, tolls always had to go up sooner or later. What is the schedule and current status is for paying back both loans?
Moody's Investment Services estimated the tolls will go up to $15 by 2026 for the Thruway Authority to be able to pay back the loan, bond and resolution of up to $961 million more in contractor final payment claims.
Cuomo will exit Albany leaving taxpayers and commuters paying higher fares, taxes and tolls in coming years for a final project cost closer to $5 billion than his promised $3.98 billion to cover the tab.
Has State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli ever audited this project to determine if there was any waste, fraud or abuse of taxpayers dollars?
There ain't no such thing as a free lunch or in this case, construction of a bridge. At the end of the day, someone has to pay.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Metro North & Long Island Rail Roads along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).