Editorial: Highway robbery

Come the end of the month, there will be another hike on the New York Thruway tolls.

If you’re like most of our readers, this toll change won’t affect you directly. You’ll drop your 30 cents or so into the till every time you head west or east locally, just as always. For those who take a truck out onto the Thruway, though, the hike will be far from a simple inflation adjustment. The Thruway Authority is proposing a 45 percent fee hike on trucks.

Truckers already pay some pretty stiff fees to use the Thruway. The bill for a typical five-axle tractor trailer to travel from exit 24 in Albany to exit 50 in Niagara Falls comes to more than $65 if paying cash. The same trip is less than $13 in a car. With a toll hike on trucks, that trip would be nearly $100. Guess where that cost is going to get passed on to?

Everything is more expensive these days, including roads. Everyone can understand that. But when it comes to the Thruway Authority, what we see again and again is an unwillingness to do much of anything except spin the number on the toll chart forever upward.

The Thruway Authority took in $634 million in tolls in 2011, which is about $100 million more than it did in 2007. But interestingly, during that same period, traffic decreased by more than 10 million trips per annum.

These figures sum up the Thruway Authority’s approach to budgeting fairly succinctly: If costs rise, then pass it on to the users, regardless of other trends. It also hints the Thruway Authority has done little to control costs despite a fundamental shift in the base of its revenue stream.

The interesting thing about the Thruway is the plan all along was to eventually remove the tolls altogether when the bonds for construction of the system expired in 1996. There have been some efforts to move in that direction. After the turn of the century, the tolls were removed on I-190 in Buffalo in what was largely a political gambit — a section of Downstate road was taken off the Thruway Authority’s maintenance duties to make up for the loss of tolls, making the victory fairly hollow for taxpayers as a whole.

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