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The highway to funding

09 Nov 2011
The Tappan Zee deal gives hope to other indirect port infrastructure projects. Credit: Sev

The Tappan Zee deal gives hope to other indirect port infrastructure projects. Credit: Sev

Even without explicit ties to port funding, highway projects throw off enormous benefits to ports.

At the northern fringes of the New York area, the rusting Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River, will live on.

Connecting I-95 and the New England states with the middle of the country, the 55-year-old structure is a major choke point for truck traffic otherwise faced with the tortuous journey through on I-95 across New York City.

New York port, an hour south of the Tappan Zee crossing (in the absence of traffic jams), sees obvious benefits if its northeastern hinterland, in New England, is accessible.

In mid October, the Obama administration, and local officials, announced that a project to build a replacement Tappan Zee span (costing more than $5bn) had been “fast-tracked” for expedited Federal review.

Back of the envelope calculations suggest that $3bn could be financed by toll-backed bonds issued by New York State, with the $2bn-plus balance funded by the Federal government’s TIFIA  program - where Federal money is married to co-investment from outside credits from capital markets.

In this time of historically low interest rates, 35 year TIFIA debt was available at 3.23% in mid-October. 

The program, aimed at surface transportation projects, is one that port planners should continue to look at, and remind their elected representatives how many jobs port throughput actually generates.

This New Yorker has spent quite a bit of time in the Southern states during 2011, and personally seen the vitality around the Fort Lauderdale area, where I-595 links the burgeoning Port Everglades (sometimes called the “Sixth Borough” of New York, though lacking Broadway shows) with the large highways in the area.

Florida will never be a national hub, but it does continue to grow as a regional gateway. TIFIA has played an important role in financing the refurbishment of portions of I-595, to the west of Port Everglades.

I also spent time in Charleston earlier in the year, where the Cooper River Bridge benefited from TIFIA funding.

As I survey the infrastructure finance scene as it exists now, it occurs to me that ports may not be the central beneficiary, but they are an important member in the cast. Not everyone can be a Broadway star, or an Infrastructure star, but ports should remember that a supporting role in a bigger project can offer many benefits.

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The Tappan Zee deal gives hope to other indirect port infrastructure projects. Credit: Sev

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