Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday formally introduced a new $4 billion bridge named for his late father that will carry 50 million cars a year across the Hudson River in the New York City suburbs.
A host of dignitaries attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) bridge, which links suburban Westchester and Rockland counties along the New York State Thruway north of New York City.
The Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge , a project launched by the state Thruway Authority in 2013 after decades of political squabbling, will replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, a critical link in the Northeast U.S. highway system.
"Today, my father does smile down on us," Andrew Cuomo said. Mario Cuomo served three terms as governor, from 1983 to 1994, and died in 2015.
One span of the bridge will open to westbound traffic Friday night, signaling near-completion of a project to replace the 62-year-old Tappan Zee that has served as the poster child for America's crumbling infrastructure.
The second span is scheduled for completion in the spring — a milestone aimed at improving the ride for Manhattan commuters and truckers looking to skirt the traffic-choked city 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the south.
The Democraticgovernor, speaking at the ceremony, recalled an experience familiar to many Tappan Zee drivers — steel plates that shifted beneath traffic, providing unnerving glimpses through road cracks of the chasm below.
Cuomo said he'd envisioned escape scenarios in case he ended up in the water: "'Do I take off the seatbelt? Do I open the window?' I had one of those special tools with the hammer and the seatbelt cutter.
"I think it traumatized an entire generation," he said.
Those in attendance included 96-year-old World War II veteran Armando "Chick" Galella, of Sleepy Hollow, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. Galella drove in the inaugural procession when the Tappan Zee opened in 1955; he was a trailblazer again on Thursday, when Cuomo took him for a ceremonial spin on the new bridge in a yellow 1950s Corvette.
Eventually, the Thruway Authority will give away parts of the old bridge's deck and its moveable barrier system. Eight counties have requested some of the 150 deck panels to be salvaged for reuse in other bridges.