Tolls Up, State Down

26 Apr

Yesterday, the board of the New York State Thruway Authority – a quasi-governmental entity with little or no oversight by politicians over the money it collects and spend – voted to raise tolls 5% next year, and 5% the year after. This follows a 10% hike earlier this year, and is compounded by a diminution in the savings you get by using EZ-Pass.

From the Buffalo News:

The toll increase encountered vehement opposition from freight haulers and commuters during a series of statewide public hearings earlier this year. State Comptroller Thomas P. Di- Napoli issued a report saying the toll hikes were unnecessary. And it prompted Assemblyman Mark J. F. Schroeder, D-Buffalo, to call for abolishment of the Thruway Authority.

About $1 billion of “off-Thruway” costs, such as running the state canal system, and the need to repair much of the road’s half-century- old infrastructure has forced the authority to enact another round of toll hikes, Thruway Authority Executive Director Michael R. Fleischer said Friday.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t so much waste at the Thruway Authority; if it hadn’t been used as a dumping ground for borrowing and spending by the state so that it could be kept off the regular Albany books. It wouldn’t be so bad if so much of the toll revenue didn’t go simply to administering itself. It wouldn’t be so bad if the roadway was actually well-maintained throughout. Have you ever crossed the Pennsylvania border on the I-90? The New York side, for which you pay, is like a washboard. The Pennsylvania side is smooth as silk. And toll-free.

He also said the DiNapoli audit underestimated federal aid by a minimum of $125 million for a five-year budget period, though Fleischer said New York State took no steps to obtain federal aid in its latest budget.

Nevertheless, Schroeder said he has joined State Sen. George D. Maziarz, RNewfane, in sponsoring a bill that would abolish the authority and transfer the Thruway to the state highway system.

“We elect leaders to administer these vital functions of government,” Schroeder said outside his office in South Buffalo. “They shouldn’t be in the hands of some pseudo-governmental board of political appointees who answer to no one.”

Schroeder said Thruway Authority spending is indicative of the explosion of authorities in New York, which he estimated at 640. He said they have contributed $81.5 billion worth of debt to state government, with the Thruway Authority alone in debt for $2.4 billion.

“This out-of-control borrowing is irresponsible,” he said.

Trucking officials say the new toll hikes, combined with higher gasoline prices, will only increase the cost of all delivered goods.

“Unfortunately, the timing right now could not be worse,” said Kendra Adams, spokeswoman for the New York State Motor Truck Association. “With the economy faltering and high diesel costs, any additional costs the industry incurs has to be passed on.”

That, she said, will result in higher costs for staples like food and clothing.

That’s the thing that all the anti-car forces tend to ignore. While it’s easy as pie to mock commuters and people who must or enjoy driving long-distance, trucks use that roadway, too. The same trucks that now pay $4.30 / gallon for diesel fuel will now pay higher tolls to bring things like hemp and soy milk to the local cooperative market. These things affect the whole of society whether you like it or not. Priuses don’t deliver freight.

Kudos to Schroeder and Maziarz for at least raising the issue of state authorities being so out-of-control that their abolition or reformation is needed. Something drastic has to change, and the state needs to fundamentally change how it does business.

As with most things coming out of Albany, insult is added to injury:

Adams acknowledged the Thruway remains the road of choice for New York truckers, and as one of the safest and best maintained highways in America, the industry has no problem paying its fair share.

“But the majority of new toll revenues will be diverted to the canal,” she said. “That makes it that much more difficult to accept.”

It’s because of the Erie Canal? Hell, the Thruway at least serves an economic purpose. While it will cost you north of $12.00 to drive from Williamsville to Albany, if you take a boat through the canal, it will cost you $5.00 – 20.00 per day (depending on vessel size), and the toll is only paid if you pass through a lock or lift bridge. A ten-day pass is between $12.50 – 50.00 (again, depending on vessel size).

If the Canal is so deep in the hole, why not – I don’t know – raise tolls and fees on boaters?

New York State. It’s like a panhandler that won’t go away.

6 Responses to “Tolls Up, State Down”

  1. Chris Smith April 26, 2008 at 8:29 am #

    How long have you been waiting to use the Failroad line? Perfect use, well played.

  2. Denizen April 26, 2008 at 2:56 pm #

    Oh please Alan, it almost sounds like you’re blaming the so-called “anti-car” folk for higher gas prices. That would be pretty godamn absurd if that’s what you really meant.

    Our Thruway Authority/general failboat NYS mess is largely due to the utter indifference of the voting public, not organic carrot-chompers. And even then, don’t forget about all those who don’t even bother voting in the first place.

    Joe Sixpack, (who keeps re-electing all those damn incumbents) is more to blame than those bike-riding Lexington co-op shoppers you like to demonize. Most normal people just don’t give much of a turd when it comes to politics on the state and local level. Even on the national level, only the most superficial issues get much attention from the general public.

    Perhaps we need to re-examine the fundamentals of American democracy. Blame “da gumbnt” all you want, in reality a government is as good as the population who are able to make informed votes.

  3. CelticTide April 26, 2008 at 11:34 pm #

    Actually, the fees on boaters were raised 100% over last year when the authority announced that all 2007 fees would be waived. The NYS canal system is integral within the various routes known as “loops”, or navigable routes around the eastern and northeastern US. Boat travel through the state tends to have a greater economic impact than car or truck travelelers, at least on a per traveler basis. Consider that a through canal traveler may be in the system anywhere from three to thirty days. One can imagine all of the economic benefits to canalside towns that provide the food/fuel/supplies/dockage/lodging services that the canal travelers require. The popularity of these trips, especially with retiring baby boomers is growing rapidly as a sort of kick off to retirement/first major cruise/bucket list type of event. It is often an annual trip considering the length of the trip and the seasonal advantages of the North/South routes. Where I agree with you is the wasteful and unaccountable nature of the NYS Thruway Authority and even with the question of why do they run the canal system, which by the way includes more than the Erie Canal. The routes are often referred to as “The Great Loop”, “The Great Eastern Loop” or “The Northeast Loop” and may include the Great Lakes, NYS Canal System, St. Lawrence River, Miss. River, The Inter-coastal waterway, Hudson River, Hudson Bay, Gulf of Mexico.

  4. CelticTide April 26, 2008 at 11:51 pm #

    Thanks for the link to the site, it’s been awhile since I’ve visited and you helped to deliver the news that it will cost me 37.50 for a ten day pass for my three to four days that I’ll be in the canal this summer. Plus the 19.95+tax cruising guide, that’s close to sixty bucks to the great state of NY to move the last major peice of personal property that I own in NYS out of there. We were going to get it shipped down to the Chesapeake but the lure of the canal/hudson/ny harbor trip was too strong. Hope the budgets gas estimate stays accurate.

  5. Buffalopundit April 27, 2008 at 8:29 am #

    Oh please Alan, it almost sounds like you’re blaming the so-called “anti-car” folk for higher gas prices. That would be pretty godamn absurd if that’s what you really meant.

    Our Thruway Authority/general failboat NYS mess is largely due to the utter indifference of the voting public, not organic carrot-chompers. And even then, don’t forget about all those who don’t even bother voting in the first place.

    I never blamed the anti-car folk. I was merely anticipating and preemptively dealing with their counterargument.

  6. Denizen April 27, 2008 at 12:10 pm #

    I was merely anticipating and preemptively dealing with their counterargument.

    In other words, building a straw man.

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