Truckers are loud and clear on NY Thruway toll increases

| 12/12/2007

In New York, lawmakers are getting an earful on the toll increases planned for the New York Thruway.

“This is New York’s Main Street; it goes right across the doggone state,” said OOIDA member Gene Schafer, Corfu, NY. “Increased tolls won’t do.”

The New York Assembly’s Standing Committee on Transportation will gather public concerns of truckers and others at four hearings concerning Thruway toll increases. The Democratic-controlled committee also asked New York Thruway Authority officials to delay any toll increases until after the state comptroller completes an audit.

Five recent hearings held by New York Assembly Republicans have drawn truckers to the podium to demand that the Thruway Authority not raise tolls by 10 percent in January 2008 or by another 5 percent in 2009 and 2010.

Truckers who run on the Thruway have made it clear that a proposed toll increase could force them onto toll-free local roads.

OOIDA board member and New Yorker Terry Button offered testimony to the committee on behalf of the Association. Button said that the decision of truck drivers to use less suitable routes is based not on an attempt to maximize their profits but on an exercise in survival.

“The tolls will impose a severe financial hardship on small business truckers who are already coping with narrow to nonexistent profit margins,” Button said. “Since small business truckers are paid by the mile and not by the hour, waiting in traffic on secondary roads is often better than shaving a few hours off of travel time and paying large tolls out of pocket.

“As has been commonly seen in states where tolls are applied or where toll rates have been raised, traffic congestion will increase significantly on alternative routes, adjacent communities will be disrupted, and the safety of the traveling public on these secondary roads will be dramatically reduced because of the increased traffic loads.”

Button told lawmakers that aside from safety, the diversion of traffic will have an adverse impact on the financial stability of companies that depend on the Thruway such as truck stops, motels, restaurants or gas stations.

Trucker Gene Schafer says while meetings are good, lawmakers still don’t fully understand the impact that the costs of tolls have on truckers.

“Running down to the state line from where I live in Corfu – 292 miles – dropping a trailer or whatever then coming home, it works out to be nearly $30,000 a year – that’s doing that route every day, 50 weeks a year, with one truck,” Schafer said. “I try to stress to politicians that if I were running that same distance on a non-toll interstate, it wouldn’t cost a thing!”

The transportation committee hearings precede a scheduled meeting of the New York Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation Board of Directors scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 19, at Administrative Headquarters, 200 Southern Blvd., Albany, NY. Thruway officials are scheduled to make the toll increases official at that meeting.

Initial plans for the toll increase originated in 2005. Opposition has mounted, in part, because the Thruway authority has been subsidizing the Canal Corporation since 1992.

OOIDA member Lou Esposito recently told Land Line that he tries to avoid the Thruway based on principle. He said truckers don’t mind paying their share of taxes and fees for good roads if they know the money is being spent wisely.

A 148-mile trip for a five-axle truck traveling from Albany to the New York City Line at Interstate 87 is currently priced at $30.82 for E-ZPass holders and $37.65 for those paying cash. A 10 percent increase in 2008 would amount to an extra $3.08 for E-ZPass holders and $3.77 for cash customers.

The remaining New York Assembly’s Standing Committee on Transportation hearings are scheduled at the following times and locations:

  • Noon, Friday, Dec. 14, in Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY
  • 11 a.m., Monday, Dec. 17, at the Onondaga County Legislative Chambers, Room 407, County Courthouse, 401 Montgomery St., Syracuse, NY
  • 11 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 19, in Room 406, Monroe County Office Building, 39 Main St., Rochester, NY

Click here to read the rules for speaking and submitting testimony.

By David Tanner, staff writer