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Group against proposed Thruway toll hike

By: Todd Etshman//July 18, 2012

Group against proposed Thruway toll hike

By: Todd Etshman//July 18, 2012//

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In this file photo, a driver pays the toll at the Buffalo exit of the New York State Thruway. Rochester-based Unshackle Upstate is calling for an audit of Thruway Authority finances in reaction to a proposed toll increase for commercial trucks. AP Images

Unshackle Upstate, a bi-partisan, Rochester-based coalition of upstate businesses and trade organizations, is calling for a complete audit of New York State Thruway Authority finances.

The coalition is headed by former Empire State Development Upstate Director for Business Outreach, Brian Sampson, and co-founded by Rochester Business Alliance President and CEO, Sandra Parker.

In a letter to Howard Milstein, chair of the Thruway Authority board of directors, Sampson said implementation of the proposed Thruway toll increase for commercial trucks should be delayed until the agency undergoes a complete forensic audit by a third party.

Unshackle Upstate is one of many groups from a variety of industries statewide that oppose the proposed increase, which the authority hopes to implement by October.

The Thruway Authority is currently accepting public comment on its proposed 45 percent toll hike for commercial vehicles with three or more axles through Aug. 24.

Two public hearings have been scheduled upstate — in Buffalo on Aug. 16, and in Syracuse on Aug. 17.

In a written response to a request for comment on Wednesday, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said his office would consider an audit of the Thruway Authority.

“We are currently examining how our office can best serve the public in this matter,” DiNapoli said. “The Thruway needs to control costs and maximize existing revenue before asking drivers to pay more.

“Our Thruway system helps sustain the upstate economy. Increasing tolls could have a negative impact on our fragile economic recovery and hurt small businesses and consumers. My office did an extensive financial review of the Thruway Authority in 2009. Had our recommendations been aggressively implemented then, many of the same problems that exist today would have been addressed,” DiNapoli said.

Brian Sampson

Sampson said he had not received a reply to his letter, and wasn’t expecting one. He said the state government reform group would be presenting testimony at one or both upstate public hearings on the matter.

“If we don’t fix the problem now, how soon will it be before they impose a two axle toll increase?” he said.

Sampson said the toll hike is not an issue created by Milstein or Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas J. Madison, but one they inherited.

“There is a history of [the Thruway Authority] not being good stewards of the tolls they get on an annual basis,” Sampson said. “We believe a forensic audit will identify places where their spending hasn’t been effective and identify savings for them to forego the toll increase and help them in the future to manage this vital infrastructure.”

The Thruway Authority published a regulatory impact statement and notice of public hearings in the June 20 issue of the NYS Register.

New York City-based Jacobs Civil Consultants Inc. issued a report in May indicating current toll levels on the thruway were insufficient to meet future needs.

Trucking companies in the New York State Motor Truck Association joined in support of Unshackle Upstate’s letter to oppose the toll hike that would affect the price consumers pay on food — and everything else — carried by trucks.

Sampson said DiNapoli’s last audit of the Thruway Authority saved the agency nearly $7 million.

Unshackle Upstate said the Thruway Authority’s own figures indicate trucks transport nearly 90 percent of manufactured goods in New York and consumers will end up paying for the truck toll increases through increased prices on everything they touch, consume or use.

The Thruway Authority raised tolls for all vehicles by 5 percent in 2009 and 2010.

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