EDITORIAL: Thruway Authority must justify latest toll hike proposal

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New Yorkers are among the highest taxed citizens and businesses in the country.

So in this time of high inflation, is it really the right time to throw another expense on top of them by raising the tolls on the state Thruway?

That’s the knee-jerk reaction to the news. But let’s not all panic yet. The reality of the terms of the proposed toll hike and the factors that play into it could end up justifying some kind of increase.

The Thruway Authority announced Monday plans to raise the tolls by 5% on New York E-ZPass customers, once in 2024 and again in 2027. Tolls on the 570-mile-long Thruway haven’t been raised on E-ZPass drivers since 2010, so it would be 14 years between increases.

Tolls next year wouldn’t change.

While the 5% increase would amount to only pennies a day for many Capital District commuters who travel just a few exits, that’s still a 10% increase in the next five years.

For commuters struggling to get to work and for local businesses that go back and forth on the highway, those pennies can add up.

The real hit will come for those in other states who use their own state’s E-ZPass system instead of New York’s and for those who don’t use any E-Zpass system at all.

The differential for both would jump to 75% under this plan. For long-haul truckers, out-of-state drivers and those who travel more extensively on the Thruway, that’s real money — and potentially a real impact on consumer costs.

We understand that costs are rising everywhere. And we understand that the state Thruway Authority receives no local, state or federal tax dollars for operation and maintenance; tolls account for virtually all of the Authority’s budget. And the Authority says even with the increases, New York’s tolls would still be among the lowest in the nation, although that’s hardly comforting to our highly taxed residents.

The good news for Thruway users and other taxpayers is that before any increase is enacted, the proposal will be subject to public hearings and comment over the next year.

When the Thruway Authority attempted to raise tolls in 2008, the state comptroller’s office was highly critical of its operations and use of toll money, calling on it to make better use of toll money, to do a better job collecting uncollected E-ZPass fees, to better prioritize capital projects, to seek other sources of revenue to offset the toll hike and pay closer attention to the management of cost overruns.

A fresh comptroller’s audit should be an essential part of the upcoming review in order to ensure the toll hike is needed.

Thruway users are also taxpayers, commuters and consumers, and the cost of tolls falls on workers, and businesses and their customers.

So all state residents have a stake in how much drivers pay to use the highway.

Before imposing any toll hike, the Thruway Authority must justify the need by demonstrating that it’s managing the people’s money effectively and that the increase is truly needed to ensure the safety and convenience of motorists.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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