Cuomo Reasserts New Bridge is On Track for 2018 Completion

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by Barrett Seaman –

He said it again—in early May: “We’re on time and on budget.”

He’d said it before several times, notably at the grand opening of the northern span of the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge to two-way traffic last August. But that was before several news organizations reported that overruns and labor disputes threatened to send its overall cost, officially still $3.9 billion, over the $4 billion mark and further delay the grand opening of the southern, eastbound span, currently projected to occur before year’s end.

Both The Journal News and POLITICO New York ran stories in March saying that TZ Constructors, the main contractor for both the construction of the new bridge and the demolition of the old one, was filing for some $900 million in contingency costs, while the original contract allows for only $650 million in contingencies.  These news reports also suggested that the project, originally scheduled for completion this spring and now slated for late fall, may not take place until next year.

Not according to Governor Andrew Cuomo. His repeated claim, made most recently to a gaggle of reporters on a May 8 boat tour of the site, is echoed by spokespeople for the project. They say the budget covers most of the contingencies and that some of them will be adjusted downward.

Flanked by Thruway Executive Director Matt Driscoll, Jamie Barbas, the overall project director, and Westchester County Executive George Latimer, the governor declared that the project was “moving right along, and we’re all very excited about that.”

What prompted Cuomo’s press event was a milestone in the deconstruction of the old Tappan Zee: the dismantling of the bridge’s 530-ft.-long, 4,700-ton center span. As the boat approached, one could take in the sheer magnitude of the section, held aloft by eight hydraulic strand jacks. Lowering the section would take the better part of the day, as it was critical to keep cables disentangled and weight distributed properly each foot of the way down. Once secured onboard the awaiting barge, the piece would be taken out to the Atlantic off the south shore of Long Island, where it will be dropped for use as an artificial reef.

The next job, which began late in the month, involves the giant cantilevered spans, the largest of which is over 600 feet long and weighs ten million pounds—so big that it must be dismantled piece by piece, explained project head Jamie Barbas. That steel will be recycled, and may, she posited, end up in someone’s new car. The removal of what remain the most visible remnants of the old Tappan Zee will go on throughout the summer months. Left after that will be the cement stanchions that supported the bridge. The plan remains to take them down all the way to the riverbed.

Meanwhile, construction of the second span continues with the placement of steel girders at landing points on both the eastern and western ends of the bridge. Nine of them, each 135-ft., were lowered into place on the Rockland shore mid-month. Next come the deck panels that sit atop the girders and form the roadway itself. They are scheduled for installation at the beginning of June.

While the old Tappan Zee Bridge may be physically removed, a pair of Republican legislators in Albany has introduced legislation that would keep the name “Tappan Zee” alive by attaching it to the new bridge. Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (Brewster) amended his version of the bill to mirror the Senate version sponsored by John DeFrancisco (Syracuse), which calls for the bridge to be re-named the “Governor Mario M. Cuomo Tappan Zee Bridge”—a compromise intended to placate the current governor by retaining his father’s name.

Hardly anyone, it seems, remembers that the old bridge was officially the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge. Chances are, with or without a governor’s name attached, the span connecting Rockland and Westchester counties, will be best known as the Tappan Zee.

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