In an analysis released today, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the Thruway Authority should explore all options to boost revenue and cut costs before increasing tolls on larger commercial vehicles by 45 percent. The authority announced the toll hike in late May, and it is scheduled to take effect Sept. 30.
The authority increased tolls for all vehicles in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the comptroller. A recent report commissioned by the authority said “further actions” might be required by 2015, raising the possibility of another toll hike. It would be unrelated to the projected increases for the $5.2 billion new Tappan Zee Bridge. Cash tolls would rise from $5 to $14, the Thruway Authority has said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has urged the authority not to increase tolls by that much.
DiNapoli’s analysis found that the Thruway Authority has increased its operating costs by 36 percent in the past 10 years. Revenues, however, have not kept pace. Payments on debt have almost doubled to $181.9 million in the past decade. Between 2002 and 2011, Thruway-generated revenues increased 4 percent annually on average, and expenses grew an average of 5 percent, the analysis said. Last year, Thruway-generated revenue fell 1 percent and expenses rose 7 percent.
DiNapoli’s report found that from 2002 through 2011, Thruway-generated revenues grew by 4 percent on average annually, while expenses grew by 5 percent on average. In 2011, Thruway-generated revenue fell by 1 percent while expenses rose 7 percent. Over the past ten years, annual Thruway Authority operations spending has grown 35.8 percent, increasing from $310.3 million in 2002 to $421.3 million in 2011. The authority has consistently overestimated traffic levels, including in 2011 when actual usage was 12 percent below projections.
The authority expects its debt service costs to climb to $312.4 million by 2016, a 72 percent increase from current figures. That estimate does not include the costs associated with the planned replacement of the existing Tappan Zee Bridge.
The Thruway Authority has failed for years to “make the improvements recommended by my office and independent consultants,” DiNapoli said.
“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 in a statement. “Too often in the past the Thruway has pushed costs and difficult decisions to the future by raising tolls or borrowing. The Thruway’s fiscal condition has deteriorated, but a new leadership team has begun to make changes.”
The comptroller also called for an independent review of the canal system, which is runs, to find savings and alternative revenue sources, and “create a plan to make it a more viable part of the upstate New York economy.” The Thruway Authority has spent more than $1.1 billion since 1992 to support the system. Boating activity on the canals has decreased nearly one-third since the Thruway took control of them.
DiNapoli’s office has done 14 audits and follow-up reports since 2007 on the Thruway Authority’s operations.