The troubled history of the Tappan Zee’s replacement

Governor Cuomo Announces Grand Opening of Eastbound Span of the New Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge
Governor Cuomo Announces Grand Opening of Eastbound Span of the New Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge
Kevin Coughlin/Office of the Governor
An aerial view of the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge during the opening of the eastbound span.

The troubled history of the Tappan Zee’s replacement

The new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge’s faulty bolts are just the latest problem.
December 17, 2018

Last week, NBC New York reported that dozens of bolts fell apart during the construction of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, a key infrastructure project of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Some workers also alleged that there had been a cover-up about the bolts. A day later, the state attorney general’s office confirmed that it is investigating the faulty bolts and any potential effort to conceal information about them.

Although engineers said there are no immediate safety threats, the news raises the question of whether other bolts that were used in the ultimate construction are up to code and how many may need to be inspected or replaced.

This is hardly the first hiccup that the Tappan Zee Bridge’s replacement has encountered. The crumbling bridge between Westchester and Rockland County was in desperate and longstanding need of a newer substitute, so the ultimate completion of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge is still a substantial victory for both commuters and his son, the current governor who got it done. However, the construction process was marred with setbacks and controversies, of which the bolts are simply the latest to make headlines. Here are the biggest mishaps the new bridge has faced, going back to the very beginning.

Construction delays

Almost from the onset of the new bridge’s construction, its progress fell behind schedule. Tappan Zee Constructors, the company tasked with tearing down the old bridge and building the new one, asked for a project extension in December, 2013, after work had begun in April of that year. They asked again in January, 2014. The New York Thruway Authority, the agency that controls and oversees the bridge, denied both requests, but the project completion date was pushed back multiple times. The original timeline anticipated completion on April 3, 2018, which meant both the construction of the new bridge and demolition of the old bridge should have been done by that date. It got changed to June 15, 2018. After encountering more delays, the opening date of the second span got pushed back to Aug. 24, which got moved again to Sept. 7, a deadline Tappan Zee Constructors almost did not meet. Although the new bridge is now fully operational, part of the old bridge still needs demolishing, so the project as a whole has still not been completed. The Cuomo administration blamed the contractors for the many delays on the project, saying that they continuously missed deadlines.

Crane collapse

On July 16, 2016, a crane collapsed on the old Tappan Zee Bridge during construction, causing damage and shutting down all traffic. At the time, Cuomo said that he did not know the cause of the collapse. Three drivers and a construction worker were injured, although none critically. Inspectors found “significant damage” done to the old bridge as a result of the collapse. At this point in construction, no span of the new bridge had opened to traffic yet.

Bridge safety

Despite concern from Tappan Zee Constructors about opening the second span of the Mario Cuomo Bridge in early September, Cuomo nonetheless held an opening ceremony commemorating the completion of the new bridge on Sept. 7, 2018. However, it did not yet open to traffic for several more days because part of the old Tappan Zee, just a few hundred yards over, was unstable and there was fear it may have collapsed onto the new bridge. Cuomo received criticism for rushing to open the bridge before, calling it negligence. The opening seemed perfectly timed to happen before September’s Democratic primary, and The New York Times reported that the Cuomo administration offered sweeteners to Tappan Zee Constructors to complete the bridge by an Aug. 24 deadline. The administration denied that the opening had been rushed in order to happen before Election Day.

Controversial name

When Cuomo announced that the Tappan Zee’s replacement would be named after his late father, the decision was met with immediate backlash. Over 100,000 people signed a petition that first called for the restoration of the old name, then for a dual title of Governor Mario M. Cuomo-Tappan Zee Bridge. The state Senate also passed a bill that would give the bridge the dual moniker. Cuomo’s brother, CNN’s Chris Cuomo, said that their father would have liked the bridge but would not have liked having it named after him. (Andrew agreed, saying their father “would reject the vanity of the name.”)

Over budget

Although the Cuomo administration has denied that the final cost of the project will go over its $3.9 billion budget, there has been speculation that it might happen. Politico New York reported in March that Tappan Zee Constructors were readying $900 million in claims, well over the $548 million allocated in the original $3.1 billion contract made with the contractor. The crane collapse in 2016 may have also introduced additional, unexpected costs to the project due to the damage it caused the old bridge.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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