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Thruway director: Toll hike still possible

Friday, January 25, 2013
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— The shift of state police Troop T expenses and other costs to the general fund is no guarantee against future state Thruway toll hikes, Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison said Friday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2013 state budget includes an $85 million general fund subsidy for the Thruway, the first time the authority has received such a subsidy.

The shift in who pays for Troop T was the critical component of a deal struck late last year to head off a proposed 45 percent increase in truck tolls, which authority officials estimated would have raised $90 million annually.

Cuomo’s proposal, making good on that deal, includes about $60 million for Troop T expenses, and another $25 million Madison said would be subject to annual negotiations, but might be used for expenses like buying road salt.

Authority officials are “really very grateful for the state partnering with us in this way for the first time since the Thruway Authority was created back in the 1950s,” Madison said following a presentation on Cuomo’s budget proposal at Empire State College.

The appearance was part of a series in which Cuomo’s cabinet members are traveling the state, making presentations on budget highlights and talking about Cuomo’s legislative agenda.

Despite the infusion of general fund financial relief, Madison said he couldn’t give assurances that there won’t be Thruway toll hikes coming, even in the short term. “No, not at this time,” he said when pressed on the matter.

The authority, whose annual budget totals about $1 billion, generated controversy late last year when it considered a 45 percent toll hike for commercial trucks to offset rising expenses for running the 570-mile Thruway.

Meanwhile, Madison said the state is within a few weeks of starting to mobilize for construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River north of New York City. The $4 billion project, to take nearly six years, is a joint effort of the Thruway Authority and state Department of Transportation.

On Thursday, the Thruway Authority board approved the first $500 million in project financing, but more financing is being arranged.

Madison said the replacement of the nearly three-mile-long bridge between Westchester and Rockland counties is of legitimate importance to upstate residents. “It’s really one of the transportation resources not just for New York but for the entire Northeastern United States.”

The current bridge opened in 1955. The new bridge will have more capacity and the ability to carry a mass transit line in the future, he said.

Also, Madison said the Thruway Authority is a potential participant in some of Cuomo’s new economic development initiatives, including the “Taste NY” program to market local foods, and a plan for installing electric vehicle charging stations around the state. The authority’s 27 service plazas along the Thruway are potential locations for both programs, he said.

 
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