Raising truck tolls on the state Thruway to the degree authority officials plan to Sept. 30 is a pretty bad idea.
Trucks may cause the lion’s share of the wear and tear on the highway system’s roads and bridges, but they’re integral to the state’s economy in a way that private cars aren’t. So they’re worth subsidizing a bit.
Sharply higher truck tolls will hurt not just truckers, but their customers — businesses large and small who depend on them to ship or receive goods. And after those businesses absorb the cost increases, they’ll pass them on to their own customers. That’s how inflation works — except when the economy is weak and no one’s getting raises. Then the higher-priced goods will sit, and businesses will suffer.
Some truckers will simply look for toll-free routes — using back roads to get around the state, resulting in damage that has to be repaired with general fund revenues. Others will move out — taking jobs with them and hurting the economy even more.
While the Thruway’s roads and bridges need to be kept up, and tolls are a good way to get the heaviest users (especially those from out of state, who would otherwise get a free ride) to pay, the Thruway Authority is far from an efficient bureaucracy. With nearly 3,300 employees earning an average of $53,000 annually, including 130 who are paid more than $100,000, it’s no wonder that tolls aren’t covering costs.
While regular, modest toll hikes on all users are preferable to drastic ones (like this one on trucks) spaced farther apart, Thruway Authority management needs to be downsized, and benefits of all workers brought to earth. It’s unconscionable that two-thirds of all Thruway workers are paying nothing toward their health insurance, for example.
The best way to manage the Thruway more efficiently is to merge its operation with the state Department of Transportation, which has roughly the same number of administrators (500), but manages a road system 15 times larger. The governor’s Spending and Government Efficiency Commission recommended this change a while back; it’s time to get it done.
As for the impending 45 percent truck toll hike, it should be rolled back a bit, with private cars picking up the slack.