NY proposes steep toll increases for new Tappan Zee bridge

NEW YORK, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Replacing New York’s aging Tappan Zee Bridge would result in raising the cash toll to $14 from the current $5, state officials estimated on Friday.

The existing bridge, which spans the Hudson River and links Westchester County on the east side to Rockland County on the west, was built only to last around 50 years. The bridge opened in 1955.

Fixing the bridge would cost $3 billion to $4 billion and only add another 20 to 25 years to its life, state officials said on a telephone conference call.

Repairing the bridge, which lacks emergency lanes and has twice the accident rate as the rest of the New York State Thruway system, would drive the cash toll to $12.

The new bridge, planned to last at least 100 years, would cost from $5 billion to $6 billion if it could accommodate a bus rapid transit system, which could be added at a later date.

“On the cost the choice is clear - a new, better bridge will require about the same tolls as just fixing the old bridge and about half the toll of a new bridge plus a new bus system,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

Offering commuters bus service from the start, something that local officials have favored, would raise the cost of the new bridge to $10 billion.

Toll increases are expected to pay for the new bridge when it opens in 2017. How much will have to be borrowed to finance the new structure has yet to be worked out. Officials could not rule out raising tolls before the new bridge is finished.

“It’s supposed to be self-sustaining, what the actual cost will be, we’ll have to wait and see,” said Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor.

The Thruway Authority, which owns and runs the bridge, got bids from three developers last week. The final price tag will be set in negotiations with these companies.

The three developers are: the Kiewit-Skanska-Weeks Joint Venture, comprised of Kiewit Infrastructure Co., Skanska USA Civil Northeast Inc., and Weeks Marine, Inc.; Tappan Zee Bridge Partners, which includes Bechtel Infrastructure Corp and Tutor Perini Corp ; and Tappan Zee Constructors, which is made up of Fluor Enterprises, Inc. , American Bridge Company, Granite Construction Northeast, Inc., and Traylor Bros., Inc.

A $2 billion loan by the federal government - if granted - could also help pay for the span, while record-low interest rates could reduce borrowing costs.

Some alternatives to the Tappan Zee bridge are already more expensive. The George Washington Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River south of the Tappan Zee, has a cash toll of $12, which is expected to rise to $15 in 2015.