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Comptroller: Thruway Toll Hikes Should Be Shelved

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – The New York State Thruway Authority should look at other cost-saving measures before hiking up commercial tolls by 45 percent, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.

“Too often in the past, the Thruway has pushed costs and difficult decisions to the future by raising tolls or borrowing,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The thruway’s fiscal condition has deteriorated, but a new leadership team has begun to make changes. For years, the authority has failed to make the improvements recommended by my office and independent consultants. The thruway should do more before relying on yet another toll hike to make ends meet.”

Thruway officials announced a planned 45 percent hike in tolls for commercial vehicles. The planned toll increase is scheduled for Sept. 30. DiNapoli noted this toll increase is the fifth in less than 10 years -- tolls were raised for all vehicles in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

An analysis released by the Comptroller's Office shows the Thruway Authority's operating costs have increased by 36 percent in the last 10 years while revenues have not kept pace and debt payments have doubled. DiNapoli says past audits have shown the Thruway Authority has “missed opportunities to limit costs and to generate new revenues without tolls.”

New York State Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison blasted DiNapoli's report in a statement saying audits from the comptroller's office have “actually contributed to past problems at the Thruway Authority by failing to report years of fiscal gimmicks and deferred expenses.”

Madison said the planned increase in commercial tolls meant the vehicles causing more damage to roads and bridges would shoulder those additional costs. He also cited tolls for large trucks in other states, such as New Jersey, which are significantly higher than in New York.

DiNapoli said the plan to raise commercial vehicle tolls could negatively impact the state's economic recovery and specific plans and information on the proposed toll hike needs to be released.

“Imposing a large toll increase could have damaging effects on consumers and businesses at a time when many New Yorkers are struggling to recover from the recession,” DiNapoli said.

Debt, DiNapoli said, “has become a driving force in the thruway's budget,” providing less financial flexibility. DiNapoli also is calling for an independent review of the New York State Canal System, which the Thruway Authority has spent more than $1.1 billion on since acquiring the system 20 years ago.

DiNapoli's report gives several suggestions for improving the Thruway Authority's finances, including identifying cost savings, improving E-Z Pass toll collections and minimizing cost overruns on construction and maintenance projects. DiNapoli says the Thruway Authority also should create a plan for capital improvements; analyze traffic estimates to prevent erroneous projections and revenue shortfalls; and increase public awareness through periodic traffic and financial reports.

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