Brooklyn Bridge

Should a new bridge come out of environmental funds?
Brooklyn Bridge IMG: Jorg Hackemann /

On Wednesday, a state board 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. The full project cost and future bridge and highway toll hikes are still unknown. However the total costs for the project have been estimated at $3.9 billion. The toll increases are thought to remain fairly low in the upcoming years.

The Thruway Authority’s requested for a second $256 million loan at 4 percent interest, originally on Wednesday’s agenda, but that request has been 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.

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

Environmentalists are claiming this to be an inappropriate use of these funds, which were intended for drinking water and sewage treatment projects. A dozen environmentalist groups have 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.

However, Thruway and EFC officials said their unusual financing approach is authorized under state and federal environmental law. They also stated that part of the money will be used for portions of the project intended to protect the Hudson River estuary and its fish, including a percentage of overall design and construction costs.

Upon the completion of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, the existing bridge north of New York City, which carries about 140,000 vehicles daily and opened in 1955, will be torn down.