Proposal could drastically lower tolls on sky-high New York Thruway

| Friday, June 09, 2006

The astronomically high truck tolls on the New York State Thruway could become less astronomical, if new legislation proposed by Gov. George Pataki becomes law.

Pataki unveiled the proposal, known as the Canal Revitalization Bill, May 22. The legislation would eliminate the jurisdiction of the New York State Thruway Authority over the state’s Canal Corporation, which has been responsible for the canal system since 1992. It would also eliminate the funding the 524-mile canal system receives from tolls on the Thruway.

State Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-District 40, introduced the bill – S8125 – into the state Senate June 7. It was referred to the Rules Committee the same day. Patrick Noonan, a spokesman for the Thruway Authority, told Land Line a companion bill in the State Assembly is expected; however, no bill or sponsor has been announced.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, Pataki’s plan would save the Thruway Authority $305 million, which would be used to eliminate Thruway debt associated with the canal system, enhance the state’s capital improvement plan, and – most importantly to truckers – provide toll discounts to the tune of $110 million.

“The Authority has outlined a comprehensive plan that will dedicate the saving toward toll and debt relief, while at the same time making additional investments into the highway infrastructure,” Thruway Authority Executive Director Michael Fleischer said in a statement. “Without the financial obligations of operating and maintaining the canal system, the Authority would be in a position to give something back to its most frequent customers.”

The proposed decrease will follow the same pattern as a toll increase that went into effect in May 2005. Passenger vehicle tolls rose by 25 percent, while commercial vehicles rose by a minimum of 35 percent. Now, with the proposed decreases, passenger vehicles will see a bigger decrease than truckers will.

Under the proposal, the largest savings would come to E-ZPass commuter customers – better known as four-wheelers – at a total of $13 million per year. Commercial E-ZPass customers would receive a discount of $8 million a year.

On an average, the cuts could be a reduction in tolls of as much as 50 percent, bringing it down to early 1980s levels in some areas, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

Although Pataki’s plan has received an endorsement from the Thruway Authority and the Canal Corporation, critics worry that the canals won’t be able to receive the necessary taxpayer funding without help from Thruway Tolls.

Officials in Buffalo have also expressed their concern, since the plan does not call for the removal of two toll plazas leading into the city’s downtown area. Lawmakers and businesspeople have protested the plazas, claiming they unfairly single out Buffalo as the only community on the Thruway with toll booths at its exits.

Pataki’s office expects a vote on the issue before June 22, the state legislature’s last day in session, according to media reports.

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