MAYVILLE - A 45 percent toll hike on the New York State Thruway will be detrimental to businesses in Chautauqua County.
At least, that's how the legislature's Planning and Economic Development Committee sees it.
During its Wednesday meeting, the committee briefly discussed a motion of support against a toll hike plan - slated to begin Sept. 30. The hike would affect all commercial drivers with three or more axles.
OBSERVER Photo by Eric Tichy
The legislature’s Planning and Economic Development Committee unanimously passed a motion of support against the state Thruway Authority’s plan to increase tolls for commercial drivers by 45 percent.
The entire Republican caucus in the County Legislature has thrown its support behind the motion.
"The bottom line is that this is going to severely hinder this state," said George Borrello, R-Irving. "The secondary impact of this is that as trucks choose not to go on the Thruway, trucks (will) instead choose the local roads."
"It's going to impact the non-Thruway state roads," he continued. "I just don't think this is right, and I think this motion is absolutely the right thing to do. And I hope the powers that be listen."
Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, said he opposes the toll hike, but believes motions from the legislature are not the way to send messages to other government agencies.
"I find it ironic or difficult that we as a body are telling other people how they should do it," he said.
The committee passed the motion unanimously.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this week announced plans to hold a hearing regarding the toll hike.
The governor has supported a raise, but said the authority needs to find ways to lower operating costs. The public hearings will be held today in Buffalo, Friday in Syracuse and Saturday in Newburgh, south of Albany.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, meanwhile, on Wednesday released a report on the Thruway Authority, noting a costly canal system and failure to predict traffic flow. He said a toll hike should be a last resort for the authority.
"Imposing a large toll increase could have damaging effects on consumers and businesses at a time when many New Yorkers are struggling to recover from the recession," DiNapoli said.
"Too often in the past the Thruway has pushed costs and difficult decisions to the future by raising tolls or borrowing," he continued. "The Thruway's fiscal condition has deteriorated, but a new leadership team has begun to make changes."
The state comptroller said the Thruway Authority for years has failed to make recommendations by his office. Therefore, tolls have continued to rise on commercial and passenger vehicles.
"The Thruway should do more before relying on yet another toll hike to make ends meet," he said.
DiNapoli's report suggests the Thruway Authority should:
Identify options for operational cost savings, including improving collection of E-Z Pass tolls;
Establish a prioritized plan for capital improvements to provide the public and elected officials an opportunity to address the comparative importance of competing projects;
Analyze past and present traffic estimates to identify sources of projections that have led to revenue shortfalls;
Report traffic and revenue levels quarterly, and issue financial and management updates periodically throughout the year, to enhance public confidence in the operational streamlining and other improvements that Thruway leaders indicate are now under way.
Commission an independent analysis of the Canal System to examine ways to streamline operations and seek new funding streams.
But not to be outdone, Thomas Madison, Thruway Authority executive director, on Tuesday released a statement of his own - shooting back at DiNapoli.
"The comptroller, and his audits over the years, have actually contributed to past problems at the Thruway Authority by failing to report years of fiscal gimmicks and deferred expenses," Madison said.
"The fact remains that tolls for large trucks on the Thruway mostly long-distance haulers are 50 to 85 percent less in New York than in comparable states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania," he continued. "And each of these trucks creates thousands of times more damage to roads and bridges than a passenger car.
"Heavy trucks, not passenger vehicles, should bear these added costs, so that tolls can be kept as low as possible for all motorists."