Bridge Business: Record-breaking loan approved for TZ project


Special Project Advisor Brian Conybeare  PHOTO CREDIT: Kathy Kahn
Special Project Advisor Brian Conybeare

News broke about the state’s historic $1.6 billion Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan for the new TZ Bridge hours before it was finalized.

“At 4 p.m. today, Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison will close the deal (with the U.S. Department of Transportation),” special project advisor Brian Conybeare revealed at the December 19 Rockland Business Association meeting.

Nearly $700 million more than anticipated, it’s the largest low-interest (3.89 percent) loan in TIFIA history, and is a major triumph for the New NY Bridge project.

Design-build legislation signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo two years ago allows the team, Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC (TZC) to speed up the project by starting construction on support systems while still finishing other aspects of final design that will be built later.

Project officials said TZC’s “must be substantially completed by June 2014,” and then it and the TA can finalize plans and designs specifics — guard rails, sound barriers, bridge access for maintenance crews and construction details of the bridge structure and foundations. Conybeare assured that there will always be a bridge between South Nyack and Tarrytown as the new one is constructed, and the current one is dismantled.

“We are fully committed to seeing this project through on time and on budget, while limiting the impact on both toll payers and taxpayers,” Cuomo said.

Public opposition to paying $14 for a three-mile ride got Albany’s attention in August 2012, after Cuomo’s secretary and chief-of-staff Larry Schwartz announced the probability of inflated cash tolls on the new bridge. Eight days later, Cuomo called for a task force to find ways to reduce those numbers.

Rest easy; the TIFIA program allows flexibility in how loans proceeds are paid. Prior to the loan signing, “the Thruway Authority sold $1.6 billion in five-year bonds, at a 2.2 percent interest cost, on Wall Street,” Conybeare said. “It won’t draw on the proceeds until 2019, and won’t have to start repaying the TIFIA loan until five years after that.”

The loan closing is “another big step forward.  This is great news that will create momentum in 2014 for this major job creator and infrastructure project,” Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland), the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, commented.

Construction on the New NY Bridge began in October; test pilings and other pre-construction activities have been underway since earlier this year with temporary work platforms along the Westchester and Rockland shorelines reducing the need for dredging.

RBA President/CEO Al Samuels, who has championed for a newer, safer bridge during the past 15 years, said it couldn’t have happened sooner.

“There are people in the building trades who weren’t working a year ago, and who are now employed with the project,” Samuels said. And while “a majority of the work force involved in the bridge is in construction this year, next year they may come from a different work force.”

Mass transit talks have been discouraging, causing him to back away.

“We never heard about a Port Chester to Suffern, ride, only one from Suffern to Port Chester,” Samuels emphasized. “Rocklanders don’t want a bus to take them to White Plains to shop, because we have the Palisades Center. We need commercial expansion, and we also need a transportation mode to get people to work here.”

TZC is using the old Journal News plant on Route 303 in Clarkstown as a temporary home for the NYSP and NYSTA maintenance facilities (its current building in Tarrytown will be razed). It also leased the NRG site (former Lovett power plant) in Stony Point for construction staging and loading supplies onto barges, and has offices at three Tarrytown locations.