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2557 Million Loan Approved For TZ Construction
BY JANIE ROSMANThe Thruway Authority unanimously approved a $255.7 million interest-free loan from the state Environmental Facilities Corporation’s clean water loan fund to help finance the new bridge at its August 6 meeting. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s request of $511 million intended for statewide clean water projects like sewage treatment had been halved last month to the $255.7 amount.“There seems to be a concern that finances haven’t been identified,” Thruway Chairman Howard P. Milstein said during the August 6 meeting. “(While) we don’t actually know most of the elements of the cost yet, we do know how those costs will be paid, and we are statutorily required to pay for those costs with tolls.”The five year loan term saves the Thruway “about $35 million in interest costs on the project, helping us to keep future toll rates as low as possible,” Milstein said. The $1.6 billion Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan, limited to 33 percent of total project costs, “will help us in that direction.”“All the project elements articulated were developed during the early phase of the project, (during) environmental review,” Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison told the board. “Pursuing the EFC loan wasn’t even contemplated. Some think it’s a financial gimmick. It’s a prudent and innovative approach to look at all possibilities.”Milstein noted some legislators “think there’s a surplus of $4 billion, and (that it) should be used for the bridge,” citing the $3.3 billion New York State is set to receive from a recent record settlement with France’s largest bank that will be added to its general fund.No sooner was the motion carried than opponents decried the Board’s decision.“This loan misappropriates funding that Congress provided to fix New York’s aging water infrastructure and restore the health of our rivers,” Hudson Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said. “This loan . . . will not hold up to independent, objective scrutiny, whether by EPA or the courts, or a combination of the two.”He vowed Riverkeeper will continue fighting the plan.Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Albany Legislative Advocate Nadine Lemmon wondered about the $35 million proposed savings. “In (a) document received after the PACB vote, a NYSTA document, it says the savings will be $17 million for the full loan,” Lemmon observed. “And if you do the math, $10 million for just the no-interest loan.”NYPIRG Senior Environmental Associate Laura Haight called it “suspicious that the Thruway Authority keeps changing their numbers” about how much the loan would save in tolls. “Meanwhile they continue to refuse to disclose to the public what the overall costs will be for the bridge and how it will be paid for.”“We don’t know (what) the finance market for tax-exempt bonds will be, (and it’s) not prudent for us to tell you the finances since we don’t know the cost or the interest rate,” Milstein said at the meeting.Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (92nd AD) — who represents the eastern shore of the Hudson River extending north and south of the Tappan Zee Bridge — asked why not use TIFIA money now.(By prolonging) “the borrowing period, they’re shifting cost to local property taxpayers who will have to find other ways to pay for what the state says they must do” for clean water and sewage improvements, Abinanti said.The TIFIA program allows flexibility in how loans proceeds are paid. Under the terms of the December 19, 2013, closing — at an interest rate of 3.89 percent — the Thruway Authority will not begin to draw on the proceeds until early 2019, and will not make any repayments until five years later.“We are mindful of concerns raised,” Milstein said after the decision. “The Thruway Authority remains committed to an unprecedented level of environmental protection on the New NY Bridge project.”
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