The New York State Thruway: Fail

28 Jan

An audit by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reveals what we all suspected. The Thruway is not run efficiently, and is quick to pull the trigger on toll increases before prioritizing roadwork and otherwise critically assessing its expenses.

“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 said. “Toll hikes are not warranted until the Thruway Authority examines its own spending. The Thruway is too important to the upstate economy to unnecessarily raise tolls and drive up the cost of everything from milk to heating oil, not to mention the impact on commuters.”

Congressman Brian Higgins added,

“Travelers along the Thruway are forced to pay for maintenance and improvements twice, once in the federal gas tax, which is paid by consumers and passed down to the Authority, and again through tolls.

DiNapoli pointed out that the Thruway has been lax in enforcing toll violations, and should jettison the Erie Canal system when a feasible means of supporting that extraordinarily expensive waterway is devised.

The Thruway Authority argues that the audit’s suggestions that certain “useful” but non-essential construction projects be deferred until 2012 would harm traffic flow and safety. Improving a state police barracks will do neither, and the Thruway Authority needs to be abolished – but in the meantime, it needs an overhaul.

The Authority – which essentially answers to no one, and is now run by holdover Pataki appointees – needs to start acting not just as a handy cash cow for Albany pols, and a dumping ground for things that toll money might help pay for. It needs to act like a provider of a service for consumers. The tolls need to be kept down. Monetize everything from EZ-Pass transponders to the toll plazas to the toll tickets with advertising. Install high-speed toll gates for every single lane, with license plate readers for those without transponders. Ontario’s 407 has no toll booths, and charges you an extra fee for reading your plate. That’s the model.

As with many things that are operated by the state, we’re using 1950s technology and ideas in 2008.

I don’t know if the Authority knows, or cares, but have you ever seen the lineup of cars at the Williamsville barrier on any given Friday afternoon in the summertime? Why is it that large trucks are permitted to use the EZ-Pass only lanes towards the left of the plaza? Why is it that even with the tolls that we pay and the federal money they get, the Thruway’s road quality is shamed by that of our toll-free neighbors on I-90?

Count the Thruway as one more of those things that Spitzer didn’t challenge head-on on day one. The Thruway is upstate’s main street. If it was toll-free, it would be a real shot in the arm to the cities that line up along its route, from Albany to Buffalo.

12 Responses to “The New York State Thruway: Fail”

  1. Rus Thompson January 28, 2008 at 9:55 am #

    DiNapoli did a great job and exposed the Thruway Authority for what they are, as did Brian Higgins. I had a long discussion with both of them and DiNapoli assured me that he will focus on the Grand Island tolls next.

    At the end of his Presser I stood up and asked him to look at the over 20 Million brought in with the Tolls, the 8 Million just to maintain the tolls in payroll etc, the measly 3 Million that we paid for superficial concrete work done on one sidewalk over the summer and then the 10.6 Million that left and went back to the General Fund in Albany.

    I will say that Jeff Williams is the only one on the NYSTA that voted against the toll increase and he finally admitted that not all the toll money stays here to maintain the bridges.

    Next year starts the re-decking project, had the money stayed here the TA would not have to borrow the 45 Million to cover the expected costs. Also the lack of maintenance of the bridges, all four bridges rated below 4 and two recently being yellow flagged shows that they only want the tolls to be used as a cash cow.

    Turn the Niagara section over to the NYSDOT from Dingens St. to Niagara Falls. Get the NYSTA back on the mainline where they belong. Take the canals away and fund it thru the Parks saving over 80 Million. Then start taking more away from them until they are abolished as originally intended to be in 1996.

    BTW… Have you signed the petition? If not do so at

  2. BuffaloRox January 28, 2008 at 11:03 am #

    Loved the written response from Thruway Authority in yesterday’s Buffalo News:

    “The impacts of either of these two options would lead to dramatic reductions in the safety of the Thruway’s customers, violate the authority’s covenants with its bond holders and COST THE STATE THOUSANDS OF CONSTRUCTION JOBS [emphasis added],” Thruway Executive Director Michael Fleischer wrote.

    I see that maintaining the cash cow for highway construction companies is one of the top three reasons that the Thruway Authority justifies for maintaining status quo. I wonder if this is a higher priority to the Thruway Authority than the reasons that precede it?

  3. Christopher January 28, 2008 at 3:02 pm #

    We moved to Upstate to escape the science fiction costs of housing in California but between the energy costs ($350 this month to heat our house), gasoline costs ($3.29 a gallon), property taxes and the cost of food, we’re beginning to see why Upstate New Yorkers leave for warmer and cheaper climes.

    I had great hopes for Gov. Spitzer and I know he can’t fix what’s ailing New York in a year but we’re beginning to actively think about moving away because the costs of living here is so staggeringly high.

    I’m 39 and my partner Jim is 45. He keeps asking, “Can we afford to retire here?” The answer is probably but with very little discretionary inclome left over to take a vacation, put a new roof on the house, or replace the furnace. For Jim, who intends to retire in 20 years, these are very important issues and I plan to retire just 6 years after Jim.

    The NY State Toll Road mess is just emblematic of the very serious problem of life in New York.

  4. Mr. Pink January 28, 2008 at 4:41 pm #

    Boy, you all read that story differently than I. After you cut through all the rhetoric, I say DiNapoli saying the Authority should give the canal back to the state government but offered no idea on how to make that happen and eliminate all unneccessary project and by unnecessary he meant, among other things, removal of the Williamsville Toll barrier and the addition of high speed EZ pass lanes.

    In my mind’s eye, very little of substance in his report. One politicans doing a hit on other politicians and offering little of value in how we actually get out from under this outrageous toll increase.

  5. Greg January 28, 2008 at 5:48 pm #

    I say roll the thruway authority into the DOT, eliminate the redundancy in management that would be created and if needed cut back on the number of road crew people if the combination resulted in too many hands on workers.

    To appease the unions eliminate the road crew jobs by not replacing retirees or peple that voluntarily quit. For management and administrators terminate them if needed, especially any worthless patronage goons from the thruway authority

  6. Buffalo Blood Donor January 28, 2008 at 9:19 pm #

    It strikes me that in this area, toll costs are NOT a major burden to us. This is more of a downstate issue and for perhaps long-haul truckers.

    I bring this up because if we want the New York legislature to address the concerns of Upstate and especially this area, fussing about the tolls moves their attention away from the real issues – high taxes, unfunded mandates, too much bureaucracy, and a lack of support for business growth.

    I would go so far as to suggest that the brouhaha about the Thruway Authority is exactly what our elected officials want, as it provides them with a way to deflect attention from more serious issues that they have little interest in (and no ambition to) solving.


  7. iNdAbUFF January 29, 2008 at 8:25 am #

    BBD…B I N G O…

  8. WNY Voter January 29, 2008 at 12:41 pm #

    Except that the self-appointed, unelected, heavily mismanaged and unaccountable patronage pits of all the “Authorities” represent a $7 billion + drain on the NYS economy every year. Seems like a pretty good place to start.

    Tolls are the means by which they are indicted, much like tax evasion to Al Capone.

  9. hank January 29, 2008 at 1:26 pm #

    well, Here it is—Day 394–and NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
    Except Spitzer has filled the villages, towns and cities of convicted murderers, murderers of women and children, released on parole.

    And the overtaxed citizens are looking to take it in the keester some more.

    EXCELSIOR!!! Great Job Spitzer!

    Tom Suozzi for Governor? Looks better every day don’t it?

  10. WNY Voter January 30, 2008 at 11:55 am #

    Tom Suozzi looked good (great) the day he entered the race, and would have been a far better governor than Spitzer can ever hope to be. But Dems here are without a clue, and just can’t think outside the box. Remember, they voted Hevesi back into office — it took the threat of indictment to boot him out.

    I can’t remember ever being so inspired by a Democrat, as I was with Suozzi.


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