Andrew Cuomo’s Tappan Zee Bridge does next to nothing for transit riders; the governor is unwilling to spend even $150 million on incremental transit improvements, much less put in the work to design a full transit corridor. But could it also hurt the existing transit system? If Cuomo isn’t willing to make drivers pay the full cost of the bridge, it could. Every dollar for the Tappan Zee that doesn’t come from tolls is a dollar that Albany won’t give the MTA.
Currently, almost all Thruway operations are paid for with toll revenue. But it’s possible that state of affairs could break down very quickly. A 45 percent toll hike on trucks — which is “imperative” according to Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison — might be scuttled in the face of opposition from both Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
And then there’s the Tappan Zee Bridge. Thanks to a bloated design that more than doubles the width of the existing bridge, the new double span will cost between $5 billion and $6 billion. As of yet, there’s no plan for how to pay for all of that.
It may not be possible to do so with tolls alone. Analyst Charles Komanoff estimated that to pay for the new bridge without another revenue source, an E-ZPass toll of $15 would be necessary. But the state has all but ruled out tolls that high. Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison told the Citizens Budget Commission in May that tolls on the new Tappan Zee would be “consistent with other Hudson River crossings.” The peak E-ZPass toll on the George Washington Bridge is only $9.50, and even the cash toll is just $12.
Nor can tolls from the rest of the Thruway system fill the gap. Madison said the state has “no intent” of raising tolls system-wide to pay for the new Tappan Zee, and if the 45 percent truck toll hike doesn’t go through, the upstate segments of the Thruway may be in no position to contribute anyway.
The constraints on tolling could be even tighter still. Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef has called for a toll discount for residents of his county; local officials like Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner have called for the same on the Westchester side of the river.
As the Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas wrote in the New York Post last month, “The numbers don’t add up any more than they did in spring.”
When asked whether the state would commit to using only toll revenues for the bridge, a Cuomo spokesperson pointed to these comments from the governor: