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Cost questions surround Cuomo's spending plans

WBFO News File Photo

Governor Cuomo has some big ideas for rebuilding the state’s neglected infrastructure. But will it come with a big price tag?

Cuomo began last week with an ambitious proposal to add a third track to the Long Island Railroad, to cost around a billion dollars. The governor also wants to spend $5 million on a feasibility study for a tunnel under Long Island Sound to either Connecticut or the Bronx or Westchester in New York.

“This year in the State of the State we’re going to propose the largest construction program in modern political history in the State of New York,” Cuomo said.

The governor added a $3 billion plan to finally upgrade the dilapidated Penn Station in mid town Manhattan, which serves well over half a million passengers a day. Previous plans have languished.

“It is dark, it is constrained, it is ugly, it is dated architecture,” said Cuomo who called using the station a “miserable experience."

In Syracuse, the governor said he wants to spend $22 billion to fix roads and bridges upstate, and will freeze Thruway tolls for the next four years, worth another one billion.

“It is the largest amount we’ve ever had for roads and bridges in upstate New York,” Cuomo said.

He called Thruway tolls “a tremendous hardship on businesses and people."

Farmers and people shipping agricultural products will get an even bigger break on tolls.

The toll freeze applies to the new Tappan Zee Bridge, which the governor is in the midst of reconstructing.

EJ McMahon, with the fiscally conservative think tank The Empire Center, says Cuomo still has not yet fully revealed how he’s paying for the massive Thruway bridge construction project. McMahon says user tolls would be the logical way to finance the bridge.

“I’d wager that if you stopped people  and they rolled down their windows and you said ‘do you expect tolls to be going up now that you see that bridge over there going up?,' I think the answer is yes,” McMahon said.

The Governor has not spelled out yet where the state’s $8.3 billion share of the new MTA mass transit capital plan will come from. The third track for the Long Island Railroad is not presently part of that plan.

McMahon say  while it’s good to focus on the neglected infrastructure, the governor will need a solid plan to pay for it all. He says he hopes to hear that plan when the Governor details his budget on January 13th.

He says it seems though, that Cuomo wants to be able to boast that he  never raised the cost price of anything.

“He doesn’t want the price to rise on his watch ,” McMahon said.

Cuomo gets a chance to prove McMahon wrong next Wednesday, when he’s due to release his spending plan details. A spokesman says he will explain everything then.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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