New York’s Thruway Authority abandoned a plan to raise truck tolls by 45 percent after months of opposition by farmers and upstate business groups who said it would hurt the state’s economy.
Instead, the authority will approve a spending plan that eliminates jobs, shifts the cost of patrolling the longest U.S. toll road to the state operating budget and trims benefits, said Executive Director Tom Madison.
“The 2013 budget will put the Thruway Authority on firm financial footing,” Madison said today at a news briefing in Albany with Governor Andrew Cuomo. “At the same time, we’re setting the stage for the authority to build bigger and better than ever before.
In May, the authority proposed raising truck tolls on the 570-mile (917-kilometer) roadway to generate $85 million. It would have been the fifth increase since 2005. The agency also proposed a two-year plan to reduce operating expenses by $100 million to pay for $1.5 billion in capital projects and refinance debt.
Raising truck tolls would help align Thruway charges with those in other states, officials said at the time.
“We are very pleased that the Thruway Authority has withdrawn its ill-advised 45 percent truck toll hike,” Brian Sampson, executive director of the business group Unshackle Upstate, said in a statement. “Had it gone through, it would have done tremendous damage to the upstate economy.”
The agency plans to cut $130 million in operating spending over the next three years, Madison said. By the end of 2013, the Thruway Authority will have cut 361 jobs since 2011, he said. Transferring the cost of New York State Police patrols will save $60 million annually, he said.
Madison said Thruway officials had general discussions about the plan with credit-rating companies and that they received the information favorably. The Thruway plans to meet with the companies in January to explain details, he said.
“My position was that the toll increase be a last resort,” Cuomo said. “It would be counterproductive from an economic-development point of view, especially in upstate New York.”
Also at today’s meeting, the authority plans to select a $3.14 billion bid by a Fluor Corp (FLR:US).-led group to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River.
Fluor’s bid was the lowest of three submitted and about $2 billion below the state’s $5.2 billion estimate. The other teams, headed by Bechtel Group Inc. and Skanska AB. (SKAB), submitted bids for about $4 billion.
The 57-year-old Tappan Zee, a toll-bridge about 20 miles north of Manhattan, carries about 138,000 vehicles each day between Westchester and Rockland counties, 40 percent more than its designers intended.
In August, Cuomo’s administration released projections that tolls on the bridge may have to triple to $14 for cash customers from the current $5 to help pay for the 3.1-mile bridge. The state has requested a federal loan, which can cover as much as 49 percent of a project’s cost, to help pay for the bridge.
“What are the tolls, we can’t tell you today,” Cuomo said. “A big variable is, do we get a federal loan and if we get that loan how much is that loan for.”
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