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McKinstry: Third canceled meeting puts NY Thruway toll hike in limbo

Traffic on I-87 headed westbound, left, from the

Traffic on I-87 headed westbound, left, from the Tappan Zee Bridge just at the Nyack/9w exit. (June 25, 2012) Credit: Jim Alcorn

When will we find out exactly what a “modest” toll hike is in New York?

The New York State Thruway Authority isn’t saying. Not exactly.

The agency’s board, which controls more than 570 miles of the state’s roadways canceled a third meeting — this one scheduled for Tuesday — where it was expected to increase tolls by as much as 45 percent on commercial vehicles and trucks. (A meeting last Friday and another in September were also canceled.)

While an increase wouldn’t target commuters, it would affect those rigs that we rely on for deliveries of food, milk, fuel and other goods.

For a trucker traveling from Buffalo to New York City, it would cost $127 or just under $40 more. And it would translate to $47.50, a $15 jump, to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge round trip.

Since proposing the increase in May, the Thruway authority has characterized it as “modest” and competitive with neighboring states. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said higher tolls are necessary to keep the roads safe and the authority fiscally sound.

That may be true (especially the part about keeping roads properly maintained), but criticism from groups such as Unshackle Upstate, a coalition of business leaders, is fair. They maintain the continued cancellations show a lack of openness and they are calling for audit to help uncover waste within the authority with hopes of keeping down any increase.

“With the second cancellation of its board meeting in less than a week, the Thruway Authority board has clearly demonstrated the lack of transparency and accountability that has plagued the Authority for decades,” Brian Sampson, the group’s executive director said in an emailed statement. “How are we to believe that the Thruway Authority is ready to act in the best interest of toll payers when they can’t even conduct a standard board meeting?”

The authority has held several public hearings across the state on the toll hike, but they were held during the summer when people were presumably more occupied with beaches and barbecues. Then came the school year, superstorm Sandy and an election.

Some people are just getting back their power -– others are still out. Clearly, New Yorkers have been preoccupied.

Thomas J. Madison, the Thruway’s executive director, said the authority is reviewing the proposed toll increase and would continue to do so before making a recommendation to the Thruway board.

“The proposed toll increase for trucks is a complex issue that requires more evaluation before it is presented to the Board to consider,” Madison said in a statement after Tuesday’s cancellation. “The Thruway is looking at a number of options and doing extensive research and it will continue to do this due diligence work before another meeting is called and a recommendation is made.”

A toll increase may be necessary in New York, but it should truly be modest, not as steep as 45 percent.