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New TZ Bridge Won't See Public-Private Partnership

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – A expedited process for a new Tappan Zee Bridge means that a draft environmental study will be released to the public next week and has left little time to form a public-private partnership to help pay for it, Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said on Wednesday.

“My first direction from the governor was 'We have been planning and talking for far too long on this project. It is time to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge,” McDonald said.

McDonald spoke during a meeting of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester and the Hudson Valley on Wednesday afternoon at the DoubleTree Hotel in Tarrytown. In addition to discussing the Tappan Zee Bridge, she outlined Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State speech he gave last week.

Federal and state officials fast-tracked a scaled-down Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project in 2011. Previous plans had included 30 miles of I-87/I-287. The scaled-down version of the project means an estimated cost of $5.2 billion and completion in 2017. Officials hope to begin construction this year.

A draft environmental impact study will be released to the public on Jan. 19. McDonald said contractors would be using a design-build project delivery, which means bids would be solicited for both the design and delivery at the same time instead of the usual design-bid-delivery process.

McDonald refuted the notion of a public-private partnership to pay for the new bridge.

“We will be using public dollars to pay for it,” she said, noting that a financial adviser will soon outline what the state's payment options will be.

Ross Pepe, president of the Construction Industry Council and the Building Contractors Association, said it's understandable that a public-private partnership won't happen.

“It would require legislation, and it's the type of legislation that would take time to get through all of these issues,” he said. Pepe adding that funding the project with public monies “makes a lot of sense” if they can find the resources.

In addition to McDonald's speech, Pepe announced the formation of a coalition of business, transportation, labor and engineering officials calling for the immediate replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The group, ReplaceTheTZBridgeNow.org , says that officials need to move the bridge project forward without mass-transit to protect the public from a deteriorating bridge. Making sure mass-transit is available on the bridge from 'day one' means further delaying the project, the group said.

“The time to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge was yesterday,” Marsha Gordon, president of the Business Council of Westchester, said. “The Tappan Zee Bridge must be replaced to meet immediate and future traffic flows. Any mass transit system should be considered as a long-term goal and must not delay the replacement of this vital link in New York's transportation network.”

The coalition's formation comes after a group of elected officials and organizations banded together in December to protest the lack of mass transit on the new bridge.

“A new Tappan Zee Bridge must contain bus rapid transit from the start, otherwise economic growth, cleaner air and commuter concerns will all at be risk,” Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino said. “The bridge needs to be built and built quickly, but the design must look forward, not back to the 1950s.”

Environmental advocacy groups such as Riverkeeper have also protested the proposed replacement bridge project, saying it does not address traffic issues or environmental issues.

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