Did the governor speed up a bridge opening to help him against Cynthia Nixon?
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is antsier than normal about the Democratic primary challenge he’s facing from Cynthia Nixon — so much so that his administration reportedly pushed a contractor to wrap up construction on a bridge in New York before voters head to the polls.
Shane Goldmacher at the New York Times reported on Monday that Cuomo’s administration offered Tappan Zee Constructors, the contractor building the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge crossing the Hudson River in New York, enticements to wrap up work on the bridge’s second span by its late August deadline.
According to a document obtained by the Times, Jamey Barbas, the official at the New York Thruway Authority overseeing the bridge construction, told TZC president Terry Towle that the state would pick up “premium additional costs” if the project was finished by August 24. Barbas also said New York wouldn’t hold the contractor responsible for traffic incidents or damage that could occur while traffic flowed on the bridge as work continued.
Cuomo’s office says there’s nothing to see here — the original deadline on the bridge was August 15, and Barbas was just trying to provide incentives that are normal with contractor negotiations to speed things up. Detractors, including Cuomo’s political opponents, say it seems like the governor’s intention was to show off to voters ahead of Election Day.
Hillary Clinton joined Cuomo on Friday, September 7, for an event marking the completion of the project. It was the same day the contractor told the state that traffic would start on the bridge. (It’s still not open because of weather concerns.)
This bridge has been a long time coming
Construction on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge started in October 2013 after growing concerns about the state of the Tappan Zee Bridge, which connects Rockland and Westchester Counties. The new bridge will replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, which opened in 1955. The Cuomo bridge is a twin-span cable-stayed bridge, meaning cables hold up its steel decks and are attached to towers along the bridge.
It was budgeted to cost $4 billion and spans 3.1 miles.
Construction on the first span of the bridge, which was named for Gov. Cuomo’s late father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, was completed and opened in August 2017.
Since then, the pressure has been on to finish the second span of the bridge, which Cuomo said would be done by 2018. But the contractor fell behind on the August 15 deadline, and last week, the New York State Thruway Authority said it would be delayed even further because a “potentially dangerous situation” developed when a piece of the old bridge became destabilized as it was being disassembled.
Towle, TZC’s president, told reporters that crew members heard a “loud pop” from the structure last Friday. Towle said on Sunday the span will open on Tuesday evening, weather permitting. When the second span opens, it is expected to ease traffic conditions.
Once both spans are completed, the bridge will have eight general traffic lanes, four breakdown and emergency lanes, a bike and walking path, and space for potential future bus transit and commuter rails.
Cuomo held an opening celebration last Friday, even though the bridge still isn’t completely open
At a press conference on Sunday, Cuomo said his administration wasn’t involved in the decision-making process around the new span and said those accusing him of political motivation were “nonsensical.” But as the Times notes, his administration seems to have been at least somewhat involved.
On July 18, Barbas wrote Towle to direct the company “to complete all necessary work” to open the span on August 24. She said the state would absorb the costs and absolve the contractor of accidents that might happen if traffic was allowed to flow.
Barbas told the Times that she was just making a “good-faith effort” to help the contractor meet a 10-day extension and that such a back-and-forth is par for the course. “The reality is the incentives didn’t go,” she said. Initially, she declined to tell the Times whether Cuomo’s office was involved in her letter; later, she said she sent it without consulting anyone at his office.
The fact that the bridge isn’t open for business hasn’t stopped Cuomo from celebrating it: Last Friday, Cuomo brought along Clinton for an event marking the bridge’s completion. “It is time for the United States of America to take another look at what’s getting done here in New York and follow this example,” Clinton said at the event.
Traffic was supposed to start flowing Saturday morning, but as mentioned, there was a setback.
Nixon’s challenge has forced Cuomo to pay a little more attention to the Democratic primary than he would have otherwise
As the Times notes, Cuomo has touted a number of infrastructure achievements heading into his September 13 primary race against Nixon. While he leads the actress and activist by a significant margin in the polls and is expected to win reelection in November, she has clearly gotten his attention and pulled him further to the left. And this primary season has seen its fair share of surprise upsets for Democrats, too.
Construction continues on the new Moynihan train hall—coming to New York City in 2020. pic.twitter.com/jGffYVsKnB— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) September 6, 2018
Nixon has called for an investigation surrounding Cuomo’s motives in pushing the bridge span opening timeline and said that the “ribbon cutting ceremony should not have been held if the bridge span was not yet safe.”
Republican Marc Molinaro, who will face either Cuomo or Nixon in the general election, said the bridge was opened to meet Cuomo’s “political timetable without regard to public safety.”
Cuomo has hit back at his opponents, saying the timing of the bridge’s opening is tied to “caution” and “public safety, not politics.”