The New York State Thruway Authority should look for other ways to boost revenues and cut costs before imposing a 45 percent toll hike on long-haul trucks, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Wednesday.
DiNapoli warned that hitting trucking companies with a double-digit hike now would only hinder the state's efforts to revive an ailing economy.
"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."
DiNapoli's office, the state's top fiscal watchdog, released an analysis Wednesday showing that the Thruway Authority has increased its operating costs by 36 percent in the past decade while revenues have failed to keep pace.
During that same period, the authority's debt service payments have doubled to nearly $181.9 million, the comptroller said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo weighed in on the subject Wednesday, saying that before there is a hike, there should be an effort to eliminate waste and "find more efficiencies."
"Raising a toll should always be the last resort," the governor told reporters.
Meanwhile, Thruway officials fired back at the comptroller's office, arguing that New York's tolls for large trucks are already far less than those in comparable states and that the agency needs the additional revenue to maintain the roads.
"The Thruway must also be able to keep the system safe and reliable for our patrons by repairing roads and clearing snow and ice," Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison said in a statement. "No one wants dangerous conditions on the roads."
Madison went on to argue that the authority is working to control costs and already is planning to cut as much as $400 million in expenses.
DiNapoli's dire outlook comes as Thruway officials hold hearings across the state on a proposed 45 percent hike for commercial vehicles with three axles or more that use the Thruway's 641 miles of road -- stretching from the Pennsylvania state line at Ripley, N.Y. (southwest of Buffalo), to New York City. It is estimated that trucks traveling from Buffalo to New York City would see a $39 hike, from $88 to $127.
The increase is scheduled to take effect Sept. 30.
Trucking groups like the New York State Motor Truck Association have lined up against the proposal, claiming their members play a vital role in the state's economy and warning that increased trucking costs eventually will be passed on to consumers.
Newsday staff writer Yancey Roy contributed to this report.