In “Cuomo blocks free Thruway tolls for CNY commuters,” it is unfortunate that the senator fails to understand the reason behind Governor Cuomo’s veto to provide free travel on a section of the Thruway in Syracuse.
First and foremost, as the governor clearly points out in his Veto Message, the bill would violate the Public Authorities Law (PAL). Under the law, “the State is prohibited from limiting or altering the rights of the Authority to set tolls and fees that are deemed necessary to operate and maintain the Thruway system, and to meet the Authority's obligations to its bond holders.” Prohibiting the Authority from collecting tolls at these five exits is not only in violation of the law, it would not be fiscally prudent.
Although the senator says lost revenue would be “peanuts,” the approval of this bill would have resulted in more than $1.2 million of lost toll revenue annually. This potential revenue loss shouldn’t be looked at as only one year of lost revenue, instead needs to be considered over the lifetime of our system. Lost revenue for the Thruway Authority could negatively impact the capital investments that must be made to improve our infrastructure. It would also negatively impact our bond rating and potentially increase the cost of future borrowing.
As the governor explained in his Veto Message, “Prohibiting the Authority from collecting tolls at these 5 exits would result in a significant fiscal loss that is not accounted for in the State's financial plan and must therefore be addressed in the context of the annual State budget negotiation.”
Furthermore, in regards to concerns over the Interstate 81 reconstruction project, as the former Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation, I can tell you that the veto of this bill is separate and distinct from the state’s unwavering commitment to improving its infrastructure in Central New York. There are no studies we are aware of to determine if a toll exemption would alleviate congestion on I-81 and to presume that connection is misleading. DOT has ordered an independent tunnel analysis which is expected to be released soon for the I-81 project and it will continue to work with the community to develop and refine its project proposals.
Lastly, E-ZPass New York already offers a commuter discount plan that can save drivers up to $127 per year while traveling between the five exits in the Syracuse area. The bill vetoed by the governor mirrors that of E-ZPass NY’s Thruway Annual Permit Plan and is available at any time to motorists.
Matthew J. Driscoll
Driscoll is the Thruway Authority acting executive director