The State Thruway Authority is traveling across New York this week, staging hearings on a controversial plan to boost tolls for large vehicles using the highway. The tolls for tractor trailers would rise 45 percent. The second set of hearings on the plan was held in the Syracuse area. YNN's Bill Carey was at the session.
ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- The arguments, by now, are familiar. The people involved in shipping goods and selling goods, warn that a 45 percent increase in tolls for tractor trailers on the Thruway will be a crushing expense to business and consumers.
“A 45 percent toll increase will raise our bill by almost $17,000. That represents half of our net income for the year. This really is taking food off our table,” said Paul O’Mara of Nighthawk Transport.
“Our direct bill is going to go up $198,000, if I travel the same miles. We figure it's about that, again, for people who are bringing us goods,” said Carl Byrne, Byrne Dairy CEO. “It's not a threat, but it's a promise that there's going to be some political, ah, there'll be a political price to pay if this goes through.”
“I listened to the governor talk, in the first State of the State Address, when he said he was going to hang up the sign that said, ‘New York is open for business.’ I fear that this will take that sign down,” Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush said.
There were calls for the Thruway Authority to look inward at ways to cut costs. One prime target, its control of the State Canal Corporation.
“As an Upstate New Yorker, I understand the importance of the canal system to the growth of our state, as well as our nation. But the reality is that it's a 19th century transportation system that is simply a drag on the state thruway authority's economy,” said Brian Sampson of Unshackle Upstate.
The canal system had its defenders who back the toll hike.
While traveling across the state, collecting opinions on the new toll hike, it's become clear there is no Plan B. No plan to be put into place should the Thruway Authority set aside its toll increase. The Authority says its cut as deeply as it can.
“We had to take a hard look all across the system and come up with a balanced way of reducing that program so that the toll adjustment proposal wouldn't be even more considerable,” said Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison.
There is a sense of frustration at these hearings that, for the Thruway, there is no turning back.
“We twenty million New Yorkers do not exist to serve you, the New York State Thruway Authority. You work for us. We are your employers. We do not answer to you. You answer to us. Since you're an authority, you barely answer to us,” former Monroe County legislator Christopher Wilmot said.
The tolls are due to rise at the end of September.
After hearings Thursday in Buffalo and Friday in Syracuse, the Thruway Authority wraps up its sessions with a hearing in Newburgh on Saturday.