Auditor says New York toll hikes ‘not warranted’

| 1/28/2008

A state official who audited the New York Thruway Authority says the authority officials should call off proposed toll increases and wait for further analysis.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli audited the Thruway Authority, releasing his findings on Sunday, Jan. 27.

The Thruway Authority plans to increase tolls in July 2008, January 2009, July 2009 and January 2010. The authority’s board of directors must have several public hearings and approve the increases with a vote before they are final.

“It’s easy to raise tolls, but the Thruway Authority should take a hard look in the mirror before it pushes another toll hike on New Yorkers,” DiNapoli stated in a press release.

“Toll hikes are not warranted until the Thruway Authority examines its own spending.”

The Thruway collected $554.4 million in 2006.

Commercial vehicles make up 15 percent of the traffic on the Thruway, but account for 40 percent of the revenue. Passenger vehicles make up 85 percent of the traffic and generate 60 percent of the revenue, according to the audit report.

During a 19-month period beginning in July, tolls would increase by 28 percent for passenger vehicles and by 21 percent for commercial vehicles. Discounts for E-ZPass users would be reduced under the proposal.

Small-business trucker Lou Esposito, an OOIDA member from Duanesburg, NY, said he avoids taking the Thruway whenever possible. He said truckers pay enough taxes and tolls only to see the Thruway subsidize the New York State Canal System to the tune of $80 million per year.

“We shouldn’t be paying for Thruway tolls to be going to the canal system,” Esposito told Land Line on Monday, Jan. 28.

Esposito said the toll booths, barriers, ramps and infrastructure involved in the collection of tolls are a “waste of money.”

“I don’t think there should be tolls on the Thruway at all because it was paid off years ago,” he said.

Esposito said he was pleased to read DiNapoli’s findings in the audit.

Several state and federal lawmakers urged DiNapoli to conduct the audit, even if the findings are non-binding.

DiNapoli stated in the audit report that the Thruway Authority:

  • Has proposed revenue increases but has not proposed ways to cut costs;
  • Has not collected $27.5 million in E-ZPass tolls and fees over six years;
  • Could delay $160 million in “less critical” capital projects to save money from 2008 through 2012;
  • Has budgeted for only $4.9 million in federal funding, which is considerably less than its historical average of $33.5 million per year; and
  • Has spent more than $1 billion in non-Thruway operations including the $700 million canal system, which has been subsidized since the 1990s

DiNapoli made several non-binding recommendations in the audit. He said the canal system should be removed from the Thruway Authority’s budget and placed back in the state’s general fund.

Click here to read the full audit.

– By David Tanner, staff writer