The New York State Thruway Authority is calling a proposed 45 percent toll hike on large trucks "modest" and necessary to keep up with growing expenses and repairs on the 570 miles of roads it oversees across the state.
But such a big increase would take a toll on any driver, though this one targets those who pilot the heavy tractor trailers that we rely on for deliveries of food, milk, fuel and other goods.
If approved next month, the proposed increase would generate an estimated $371 million in extra cash through 2016 -- a great deal of money for a heavily toll-dependent agency with a yearly budget of $1 billion.
Unfortunately, the change would mean an estimated $40 increase on a tractor-trailer's trip from Buffalo to New York City, raising the cost to $127. A $15 jump to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge would bring a round-trip trek across the Hudson River to $47.50.
When you consider the volume of trips for, say, an upstate dairy farmer, or any industry that relies heavily on road transportation, those costs could inevitably trickle to the consumer -- and do little to spur an already fragile economy.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli concluded in a report last week that raising tolls on trucks would have "damaging effects on consumers and businesses at a time when many New Yorkers are struggling to recover from the recession."
And he highlighted other troubling trends that must be addressed, like an upward swing in the Thruway's expenses, an increasing reliance on borrowing, and overly optimistic projections of how many motorists will use the Thruway roads. Further complicating the bottom line is the Thruway's continued oversight of the New York State Canal Corp., which oversees over 500 miles of waterways that connect upstate rivers and lakes. It is projected to incur more than $1 billion in operating and capital costs in 2012 and demand a growing share of Thruway revenue over the next four years, the comptroller said.
Before the Thruway moves on such a large hike -- bearing in mind that tolls for all types of vehicles have risen five times in seven years -- it should work harder to save money in addition to the $300 million in savings cited at several public hearings last week by the Thruway's executive director, Thomas Madison.
It's true that trucks rip up the roads and bridges at a far greater pace than smaller vehicles. Each one inflicts 10,000 times more wear and tear than a car, the Thruway argues. And New York's tolls would still be lower than those of neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
But trucking is integral to the state's economy. Given the state's efforts to promote itself as having new, business-friendly environment, the Thruway has to do a better job at controlling expenses and finding efficiencies before it calls on business to pay so much more.
If truck tolls must go up, let the increase be a modest one.