Building Bridges, Burning Time

Governor Andrew Cuomo accused of dangerously rushing a major bridge opening

East ICYMI News Transportation
The second span of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge opened this week despite controversy surrounding the Cuomo administration's involvement in pushing its completion date. (Kevin Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)
The second span of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge opened this week despite controversy surrounding the Cuomo administration's involvement in pushing its completion date. (Kevin Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Ahead of Thursday’s New York State primary, news has come out that in July Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration might have enticed the contractor building the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge to speed up construction in order to finish it ahead of its late August deadline. The 1.3-mile bridge opened late last night instead, two days before voters hit the polls. Critics are claiming that Cuomo rushed the bridge’s construction, potentially dangerously so, in order to tout its completion during his competitive primary race against Cynthia Nixon.

The New York Times snagged an internal document this week reporting that Tappan Zee Constructors were incentivized to open the bridge’s eastbound span by August 24 in exchange for the New York Thruway Authority potentially absorbing “premium additional costs.” The state also said it would pay for any possible accidents that might occur if construction continued on the bridge while traffic flowed upon opening.

Vox reported yesterday that the second section of the twin-span, cable-stayed bridge was set to open August 15, but due to construction delays the date was pushed back by 10 days. In the document, a letter from Jamey Barbas, the state official overseeing the project to TZC president Terry Towle, Barbas detailed her reasons for asking the contractors to ramp up their efforts. The NYT wrote that Barbas said the extension and concessions are “part of the normal give-and-take between the state and its contractors.”

While Governor Cuomo said Sunday in a press conference that he denies having any influence over the bridge’s timetable, the letter suggests otherwise as the Thruway Authority is a key part of his administration. Additionally, according to the NYT, the Governor outright admitted his involvement. “We’ve been accelerating the second span,” he said. “And Jamey and Matt [Driscoll, Thruway Authority executive director] have been doing everything they can to shave time because the sooner we open the bridge, the sooner the traffic comes down.”

mario m. cuomo bridge ceremony

Cuomo held a public ceremony on Friday to celebrate the bridge’s completion. Hours later, engineers on the adjacent Tappan Zee Bridge discovered an issue with one of the joints, forcing construction to halt on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and postpone the scheduled Saturday opening. (Courtesy The New New York Bridge Project)

After further schedule changes, the bridge was supposed to open last Saturday, but due to weather concerns and safety issues, cars only began passing through the second span into Westchester yesterday. The governor announced its completion in a big ceremony last Friday that included a congratulatory speech by Hillary Clinton.

Throughout his campaign to be reelected as governor, Cuomo has repeatedly praised the many infrastructure projects his administration has achieved over the last 12 years. While the bridge, named after his late father and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, is a much-needed project set to replace the 63-year-old Tappan Zee Bridge, critics argue that the Governor’s aim was to use its rapid completion as a ploy for good press.

This weekend, Cuomo’s gubernatorial opponents Marc Molinaro and Cynthia Nixon both called for an investigation into the bridge controversy, according to ABC 7 New York. The administration claims that hours after Friday’s ceremony, workers found a flawed joint in the old Tappan Zee structure that could have caused part of it to fall. Because of its proximity to the new bridge, officials shut down construction and postponed Saturday’s opening.

The first span of the Mario M. Cuomo bridge was finished in August 2017. As of this year, both Cuomo and the Thruway Authority said it would be done by 2018, but, while cars are already crossing over part, construction is still underway. When finally finished, the bridge will include eight traffic lanes, a bike and pedestrian path, as well as room for future bus transit and commuter trains.

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