New York plans to replace the aging Tappan Zee Bridge with a new $16 billion bridge and bus rapid transit system that would include commuter rail, the state announced Friday.

"The Tappan Zee Bridge is a vital link in the transportation network of New York state," Gov. David Paterson said in a press release. "Focusing on New York state's critical infrastructure needs must continue even during this challenging economic time, as these projects keep our economies strong and our state thriving."

The bridge project alone would cost $6.4 billion. Making highway improvements and adding the bus rapid transit system to a 30-mile corridor on Interstate 287 to connect Rockland and Westchester counties would cost $2.9 billion. This part of the project could be completed by 2016 or 2017 if an aggressive construction schedule beginning in 2012 was carried out, saidNew York State Department of Transportation spokesman Charles Carrier.

Building the commuter rail system, which would connect commuters in Rockland County to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, would cost $6.7 billion and would be completed at a future date after the opening of the bridge, Carrier said.

The DOT is leading a team that includes the New York State Thruway Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Metro-North Railroad. The planners considered options for the bridge that included a "no-build" option, rehabilitating the bridge and adding either bus rapid transit, commuter rail or both.

With the state economy struggling, Paterson has said the state should consider public-private partnerships and has indicated the Tappan Zee Bridge was a possibility for a long-term concession.

The DOT is in the process of finalizing a contract with Merrill Lynch to serve as financial adviser on the project. Under a five-year contract, Merrill Lynch would advise the department on financing options for the bridge, including long-term concessions, or public-private partnerships, according to the request for proposals. The initial phase of finance study will be released "soon," according to a press release.

A final scoping report on the proposal will be issued following public meetings in October. A draft environmental impact statement is scheduled to be completed by late 2009 and a final environmental impact statement would be completed by 2010, according to a press release.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Westchester, criticized the possible privatization of the bridge concession.

"We have been unable to understand how privatization will benefit the public and those who use the bridge," Brodsky said in a press release.

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