Letter to the Editor: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, or a free bridge

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office
An aerial view of the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, facing west, which crosses the Hudson River between Westchester and Rockland Counties.

TANSTAFL — “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” or in this case, construction of a bridge. At the end of the day, someone has to pay.

A Citizens Budget Commission report projecting that tolls on the new Tappan Zee Bridge will likely increase from $5.00 to $10.50 after 2020 should come as no surprise. It confirms what I previously predicted. Governor Cuomo made a cold political calculation by promising not to raise the tolls when running for another term in 2018 or president in 2020 (the world’s worst kept secret). To pay back the $1.6 billion dollar federal loan and $1 billion New York Thruway Authority Bond which helped finance the new $3.9 billion Tappan Zee Bridge, tolls will have to go up by double or more over several years.

The well-respected Moody’s Investment Services previously estimated the tolls will go up to $7.60 by 2021 and $15 by 2026 for the Thruway Authority to be able to pay back both the loan and bond. This is on top of Cuomo still owing $5.8 billion toward fully funding the $32 billion MTA 2015—2019 Five Year Capital Plan. Add an additional $1 billion he pledged in response to this past summer’s NYC Transit subway and LIRR Penn Station problems.

Construction costs for the new Gateway Tunnel connecting New Jersey to Penn Station is $29 billion. Cuomo committed contributing 25 percent of the total cost, but has yet to identify the source of his $7.25 billion.

When it comes to paying for all his promised transportation projects, Cuomo reminds me of Wimpy who famously said “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” It is a safe bet that taxpayers and commuters will be paying higher fares, taxes and tolls in coming years to cover the costs.

Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.