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Editorial: New direction at the NYS Thruway Authority

Holiday weekend travelers on the New York State

Holiday weekend travelers on the New York State Thruway northbound near Tuxedo. (May 25, 2012) Photo Credit: John Meore

By trimming its workforce, the New York State Thruway Authority is cruising toward its goal of getting its finances in order. The authority announced last week that it will lay off 234 of its 2,968 workers, or roughly 8 percent of its statewide workforce.

The $20-million savings from layoffs alone won't reverse the course of this historically inefficient, bloated and patronage-laden bureaucracy. But a brighter picture emerges when you combine it with other cost-saving measures like refinancing "risky" short-term debt, wage freezes for managers, eliminating hundreds of positions through attrition, trimming capital costs, and shedding a $60-million tab that it paid for police patrols along the state's 570 miles of roads. Together these changes are expected to reap hundreds of millions in savings, while enabling the authority to forgo last year's 45 percent toll-hike proposal on commercial drivers that could have hurt an already fragile economy.

Years of bad habits and decisions -- raising tolls in periods when the authority overspent, incurring debt and overestimating road use -- caused the problems. Now, under Executive Director Thomas Madison, the authority appears to be using a new road map.

These new savings come as the authority takes on one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the nation -- the $3.1-billion replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says is a metaphor for a functional state government.

Although there's still no financing plan in place, the bridge project is accelerating: Just last week the authority announced it was borrowing $500 million to get shovels in the ground and barges in the water.

Layoffs hurt those affected, but for an authority whose $977-million budget is 57 percent personnel costs, a workforce reduction seems unavoidable.

For the Thruway Authority to take on replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge, it must first show that it's speeding along.

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