Niagara Gazette

November 13, 2012

Thruway Authority looking at alternatives to "modest" 45-percent increase

The Associated Press
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — After canceling a second meeting amid public opposition to a proposed toll increase, the state Thruway Authority is looking at alternatives to what it had called a "modest" 45-percent increase for truckers.

"The proposed toll increase for trucks is a complex issue that requires more evaluation before it is presented to the board to consider," said Thomas Madison, executive director of the state authority. "The Thruway is looking at a number of options and doing extensive research and it will continue to do this due diligence work before another meeting is called and a recommendation is made."

No details of those options were released.

The authority headed by appointees of Gov. Andrew Cuomo had called a special meeting on Friday with little notice and without providing an agenda. After Assemblyman James Tedisco and the business group Unshackle Upstate criticized the move while the attention of the public and media was focused on recovery from Superstorm Sandy, the authority postponed the meeting to Tuesday. That, too, was canceled.

"The Thruway Authority board has clearly demonstrated the lack of transparency and accountability that has plagued the authority for decades," said Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate. "How are we to believe that the Thruway Authority is ready to act in the best interest of toll payers when they can't even conduct a standard board meeting?"

The group urged the authority to start a deep audit "to right its fiscal house and avoid an irresponsible toll hike."

In May, the authority proposed what it called a "modest" 45-percent toll increase for commercial trucks, which was projected to be in place this fall. Opponents of the increase say it will hurt New York state's shaky economy, driving up consumer costs as well as hampering trucking operations.

Thruway officials say the toll increase is needed to keep the agency fiscally sound after years of mismanagement under past administrations. A credit ratings agency supports the need for a toll increase and indicates a toll increase for all drivers might be required.

"I'm beginning to think that if the 45 percent (toll hike) is needed, why are we playing games with it?" authority Vice Chairwoman Donna Luh said. "I'm beginning to think that 45 percent is not a figure we need."

The toll for a three-axle truck traveling from Buffalo to New York City is about $88. Under the proposal, that could increase to $127. In June, a rating agency said "aggressive" toll increases for truckers and eventually all drivers might be needed to keep the authority fiscally sound, even though a multiyear phase-in of toll increases for car drivers ended in 2010.

$39 Proposed toll hike for a three-axle truck traveling from Buffalo to New York City