Assemblyman Magnarelli Opposes Proposed Thruway Toll Hike Plans

Following the release of State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s audit of the Thruway Authority – and a subsequent Assembly hearing on the proposed toll hikes – it’s become clear that the Thruway Authority has not been doing its job and has done a poor job of managing its finances. The audit now validates what many of us have been saying for some time – that the increases are unnecessary. The Authority should follow the comptroller’s recommendations to better manage its finances before taking the easy way out and raising tolls.

With today’s skyrocketing gas prices, upstate New Yorkers have enough to worry about. They don’t need the threat of increased Thruway tolls.

The Thruway Authority introduced the toll hike plan in November 2007. The proposal includes a 10 percent hike in cash tolls, increased commuter permit fees and reduced E-ZPass discounts. Questioning the necessity of such plans, Comptroller DiNapoli announced an audit of the Thruway Authority. With results of the audit pending, the Thruway Authority board voted in December to approve the toll hikes.

The Comptroller’s report details several instances of financial mismanagement, including underestimating federal funding by over $100 million, adding further question to the Authority’s actual budget shortfall. They also failed to explore a number of options to free up finances, including implementing cost-cutting measures, hiring a collections agency to redeem uncollected E-ZPass tolls, and prioritizing capital projects by postponing those of less importance.

The Thruway Authority’s incompetence has been outlined in previous years as well. In 2006, they spent over $8 million in employee overtime and distributed free E-ZPasses to thousands of employees and Thruway retirees. Report after report has indicated a clear mishandling of funds. Rather than re-evaluate expenditures, the Authority is planning to force New Yorkers to pay out of pocket with increased tolls.

I am appalled at the negligence of the Thruway Authority. They have clearly overlooked internal cost-cutting alternatives, choosing instead to leave New York motorists with an arbitrary financial burden. After the Thruway Authority’s inability to justify these toll hikes in an Assembly hearing last Tuesday, I am calling for the resignation of the Thruway Authority’s Board of Directors.

I have long been an advocate of cost-efficient Thruway travel, authoring a bill (A.439) allowing the Thruway Authority to issue short distance commuter passes, which allow travel at no charge between Exits 34-A, 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39.

During these challenging times, another toll hike is the last thing we need. A toll increase will undoubtedly drive up costs for commuters and businesses that use the road daily, negatively impacting our goals of rejuvenating upstate New York.