Upstate Ny Group Demands Audit Before Thruway Toll Hike

07.18.12 | Bob Price

"We will all pay the price for this toll hike if we don't stand up and demand that the Thruway review its own finances before taking money from the rest of us," said Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate.

The toll increase on trucks with three or more axles would threaten distribution jobs and increase the costs of food, clothing and other articles hauled by trucks while slowing New York's "tenuous" economic recovery, he said Tuesday.

The Unshackle Upstate group is calling for a delay in starting the proposed toll until a "forensic audit" is completed. It says enough savings could be found to reduce or eliminate the toll increase on the statewide highway.

Even before the first public hearings are held, the Thruway Authority has already told investors it sees "no reason" the toll hike won't be approved in September "substantially as proposed," The Buffalo News reported, citing the authority's borrowing proposal.

The toll for a three-axle truck traveling from Buffalo to New York City is about $88. That could increase to $127 under the board's proposal. Nineteen business groups oppose the toll increase.

In June, the Standard & Poor's rating agency said "aggressive" toll increases for truckers and eventually all drivers may be needed. The revenue may be necessary to maintain the 500-mile highway and to help pay for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $5.2 billion plan to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge outside New York City, the ratings agency stated. The Obama administration this spring rejected a $2 billion loan application. But another round of applications is planned.

The cost of a toll for a car from New York City to Buffalo is now about $20.

"A 45-percent increase is simply excessive and its implementation will have horrific ramifications for businesses and consumers across upstate New York," Sampson wrote to authority Chairman Howard Milstein, a Manhattan real estate developer appointed by Cuomo.

"Either way, everything we use, consume or touch will cost more if this toll increase in implemented," Sampson said.

The Thruway Authority had no comment on the letter Tuesday.

The request for a thorough audit was sent Tuesday to the authority, which was meeting in New York City.

In a letter released publicly in May, the Thruway Authority blamed past administrations for fiscal problems during the recession that sparked the proposed "modest" increase.

Tolls were last raised in January 2010.

Public hearings are scheduled for Aug. 16 in Buffalo, Aug. 17 in East Syracuse, and Aug. 18 in Newburgh. The authority is also taking comments by mail and email (tollcomments(at)thruway.ny.gov) through Aug. 25.