By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — A 45 percent Thruway toll hike for large trucks is off the table.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the decision to scrap the controversial hike at a press conference in Albany Monday morning. He had supported the hike, saying the thruway authority need the extra $90 million in revenues it was expected to generate to maintain its bond rating. That rating has a large affect on interest rates for the authority and the state will likely bond billions of dollars to build a new bridge over the Hudson River replacing the Tappan Zee bridge.
Thomas Madison, the authority's executive director, released a report on new cost-saving strategies on Monday, which include efforts to eliminate poor fiscal practices, make transformative operational changes and create long-term cost savings. The plan will save the agency $25 million in operating costs next year and over $130 million over the next three years, according to the report.
Madison's plan says that the authority will generate these savings by reducing the size of the agency's fleet of vehicles, buying energy in bulk at a discount and exploring options for joint management of the Canal Corporation, the arm of the agency that operates its waterways, amongst other measures.
Some of the authority's costs will be passed along to the state budget directly funded by taxpayers. That includes $60 million a year the Thruway had paid from its tolls since 1954 to pay for state police Troop T, which patrols the statewide highway. The patrols won't change.
Cuomo praised the reversal on the toll proposal made in May by the Thruway Authority headed by Cuomo's appointees. He had publicly distanced himself from the increase proposal, saying it had to be a last resort.
"I thought it would be counterproductive from an economic development perspective," Cuomo said Monday. "I think the increase would send the wrong signal."
The New York State Motor Truck Association said the toll increase would have hit all New Yorkers.
"The hike would have devastated the entire state's economy and nullified any attempts by the governor and the legislature to make New York 'open for business,'" the association's Kendra Hems said.
Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, said that he was happy to see the authority and Cuomo find a plan that allowed them to avoid the toll hike.
Ceretto attended a public hearing in Buffalo in August where the public voiced their concerns regarding the toll hike.
"I'm just exited that the thruway authority listened to the people of Western New York and reacted to their concerns," he said.
Ceretto called the hike a "hidden tax."
"It's simple to (raise tolls)," he said. "It's a lot harder to do your job and find the savings."
Ceretto said that the tolls would have worked against Cuomo's goal of making New York more business friendly.
"The goal is to bring jobs back to Western New York and New York state," he said.
Big Red Number $90M Amount 45 percent toll hike on trucks was expected to generate for Thruway Authority