ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York state officials on Monday dropped their proposal for a 45 percent increase on the state Thruway toll for trucks, while advancing a a $3.14 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.

“It gave us the opportunity to save a very substantial amount of money,” Thruway Authority Chairman Howard Millstein told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith.

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Millstein said this project will save about $1.5 billion from the initial estimates.

WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reports

The proposal endorsed by New York State Transportation Commissioner Thomas Madison on Monday, and expected to be formally adopted by the Thruway board, is the least expensive with the fastest construction schedule of the three bids that were accepted, although the $5 toll is still expected to nearly triple. The Madison-endorsed bid also dredges the least from the Hudson River.

“In just about one year, the bridge went from articulating a vision to getting close to putting a shovel in the ground,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

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Brian Conybeare served as a special adviser to Cuomo on the project.

“It had the shortest construction schedule, at five years, two and a half months. It had the least amount of dredging, so the environmental impact on the Hudson River itself was the least of the proposals as well,” Conybeare said.

Conybeare said one reason for the lower price tag is that the company, Tappan Zee Constructors, also happens to own the world’s largest floating crane.

“This giant crane can speed up construction, reduce costs, and also speed up demolition of the old bridge,” he said.

1010 WINS’ John Montone reports

The new bridge will not have rails, but will have the capacity to add them for the Metro North line.

According to a release, the bridge designs would take between five and six years to complete. Madison said the beginning of the huge construction project could get underway next month.

“We’ll start to see the equipment and some of the staging areas being constructed,” Madison told Smith.

The other projects were priced at $3.99 billion and nearly $4.06 billion, respectively. The final cost will be higher because of management costs, contingencies and other costs which would have been equal under any of the proposals, Madison said.

The state is waiting on a decision from the federal government on a request for a loan that could cover $2.9 billion of the cost. The Obama administration rejected New York’s application a year ago, but invited the state to reapply. That was viewed as a positive sign in Albany.

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Cuomo praised the reversal on the toll proposal made in May by the Thruway Authority headed by Cuomo’s appointees. Cuomo had distances himself in news conferences from the decision, saying it had to be a last resort while supporting the authority’s need to correct its finances.

Cuomo said Monday that no Thruway toll increase is expected to be part of the authority’s fiscal plans covering the next three years.

Madison said the toll was avoided by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses, passing some of it along to the state budget directly funded by taxpayers. That includes $60 million a year the Thruway had paid from its tolls since 1954 to pay for state police Troop T, which patrols the statewide highway. The patrols won’t change.

The New York State Motor Truck Association said the toll increase would have hit all New Yorkers.

“The hike would have devastated the entire state’s economy and nullified any attempts by the governor and the legislature to make New York `open for business,’” said Kendra Hems of the association.

The political fight was led by upstate Republican assemblymen, including James Tedisco of Schenectady County who called the authority diabolical and accused it of operating as a secret government.

“The most important thing is trying to help the businesses and consumers of our state — that’s what it’s all about,” said Assembly Republican leader Brian Kolb of Canandaigua. “This is a big first step.”

The Unshackle Upstate business group said the proposed toll increase would do “tremendous damage to the upstate economy.”

“The announcement today is a clear indication that public advocacy is alive and well in New York,” said the group’s executive director, Brian Sampson. “We’re proud to have worked with a large coalition of elected officials, business groups, trade organizations and toll payers in opposing the proposed toll hike.”

That advocacy included accusing the authority of trying to quietly approve the toll hike by holding summer hearings that usually generate little attendance then calling authority meetings without providing an agenda, then canceling the meetings after the session were reported in the news media.

The New York Farm Bureau’s Dean Norton said the decision was a big relief for farmers who would have paid the steep toll.

“Of course it had an impact on deliberations,”’ Madison said of the hearings and opposition.

The Thruway had reported in the spring that a “modest” 45-percent increase in the toll for truckers to raise $90 million was unavoidable because the alternative would be a hit to its credit rating which could have drastically increased borrowing costs. Now Madison says the new business plan to reverse what he and Cuomo called years of mismanagement before Cuomo took office will protect the authority’s credit rating.

Cuomo had distanced himself from the authority his appointees run, saying it was important protect the credit rating but a toll increase should be a last resort. Despite a voluminous study that supported the toll increase in the spring, Madison said Monday that toll is no longer necessary.

“I thought it would be counterproductive from an economic development perspective,” Cuomo said Monday. “I think the increase would send the wrong signal.”

Cuomo said the increase would have stepped on his administration’s message of creating a “new New York” of building a better economy and future, which includes the Tappan Zee mega project.

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