$1.6B Federal Loan for Tappan Zee

ALBANY (AP) -

A $1.6 billion federal loan has been approved for replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River north of New York City.

Plans call for building two new spans, with the first done in the summer of 2016, the second in 2018, and tearing down the old bridge but using the same landings. Construction is proceeding on the project, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. The cost has been estimated at roughly $4 billion.

“Because it was a big project, we needed a big loan,” he said, noting it’s a record for similar highway projects. “This adds a critical piece, which is a financing piece.”

Asked about the expected tolls for drivers on the bridge or other parts of the state Thruway system, Cuomo said other questions need to be answered first, including actual construction and project management costs and the time required.

The Department of Transportation said the loan decision followed a creditworthiness review, and the next step will be the closing and execution of a loan agreement. Replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge, an integral part of I-87 on the New York State  Thruway, will put people to work and make travel safer on one of the East Coast’s busiest routes, according to the agency.

The Thruway Authority plans to issue another $2.4 billion in debt for the project, said Executive Director Tom Madison.

Last week, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service downgraded the rating for bonds sold by the Thruway Authority from A-plus to A over concerns about how much tolls will increase.

Cuomo had once sought a low-cost federal loan to cover 49 percent of the project, but the Transportation Department has lowered the percentage it is willing to fund.

The existing toll bridge opened to traffic in 1955, designed to carry up to 100,000 vehicles daily. State officials say about 138,000 vehicles cross it daily.