New Date Set For Mario Cuomo Bridge Span Opening Amid Calls For Investigations
After a delay, the eastbound span of the 3.1-mile Mario Cuomo Bridge is set to open Tuesday night, weather permitting. This comes after a setback Friday, hours after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo held a grand opening ceremony for the span’s public debut. Cuomo’s gubernatorial opponents are calling for outside investigations into the timing of it all.
Friday’s grand opening ceremony came just hours before a piece of the remaining Tappan Zee Bridge structure was in danger of falling and impacting the second span of the new bridge. State Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew Driscoll said that, while disassembling the old Tappan Zee Bridge, a potentially dangerous situation developed where a piece of the old bridge became destabilized and could fall. He said Tappan Zee Constructors would evaluate the situation, given the old span’s proximity to the new one. That evaluation has occurred. Sunday night, President Terry Towle said Tappan Zee Constructors has determined that the old Tappan Zee Bridge east anchor span is damaged but stable and does not threaten the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
Cuomo called the timing of the safety issues on the old bridge, arising just before the new span was to open publicly, a "bizarre coincidence." Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, held a press conference Sunday in Tarrytown near the bridge, calling for an independent investigation.
“It raises real questions about whether the bridge span opening was accelerated to aid in the governor’s re-election campaign,” says Nixon.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County Executive, commented on Cuomo’s remark.
“Yes, and I have a bridge to sell you,” says Molinaro.
Molinaro also visited Tarrytown Sunday, calling for the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate. The state Thruway Authority’s Driscoll, responding to Molinaro and Nixon, says, "Politicizing public safety is wrong and we urge those engaging in it to stop lying to the public. The Mario M. Cuomo bridge is safe and the NTSB investigates accidents, so this matter is well outside its purview.?"
“I’ve personally been involved in dozens upon dozens of capital projects. When an incident occurs that threatens public safety, there needs to be an after-action investigation,” Molinaro says. “That is common practice. It is appropriate, and it generally includes some sort of independent body that allows us to, at the very least, learn from what occurred, but, we believe, again, would expose what was a hasty rush to have a ribbon cutting and press event prior to the Democratic primary.”
A spokesman for the NTSB says its authority to investigate relates to transportation accidents, and that other state and federal organizations are responsible for approving, evaluating and monitoring the construction and maintenance of bridges.
During a press conference Sunday, Cuomo, a Democrat, pointed out that the problem was not with the new bridge, which the state controls, but with the old bridge, which it doesn't. After its evaluation, Tappan Zee Constructors’ Towle says that if the old bridge’s east span does fail, it would fall within a safety zone that does not affect vessel traffic or the structural integrity of the new eastbound bridge.
Meantime, Molinaro says two individuals approached his campaign who have significant knowledge of and involvement with the nearly $4 billion bridge project, and could be subpoenaed during an independent investigation.
“We believe and have had individuals come forward who will attest that they were pressured to move and advance the opening of the new bridge lanes by the governor’s administration,” says Molinaro.
He declined to offer further details, citing protection of the whistleblowers. Democratic Assemblyman Tom Abinanti’s district includes the Tarrytown side of the bridge that connects Westchester and Rockland Counties. Abinanti, who says he was not invited to Cuomo’s grand opening event Friday, joined Nixon Sunday.
“So the question here becomes, what did the governor know, when did he know it?” Abinanti says. “And, if he didn’t know there was danger there, why didn’t he know it since he controls everything else.”
Prior to Tappan Zee Constructors’ evaluation and recommendation that the new bridge’s eastbound span open for traffic, Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer weighed in over the weekend, saying, in part, “This is not the time for anyone to attempt to score political points using this issue; it is a time where we cooperate to safely resolve this situation. As we prepare to commemorate the sacrifices made on 9/11, we do well to remember the importance of unity and cooperation instead of continuous political conflict."