Guest Blog: Don’t Hold Residents Hostage via Tolls

By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

As I have maintained for years, the construction of a new Tappan Zee bridge is critical to the health, safety, and economics of our county. Too much talk and too little action make a recipe for disaster, especially when we are speaking about a bridge whose shelf life is ending.

Tappan Zee Bridge toll plaza/Courtesy of Jack Thomas

Tappan Zee Bridge toll plaza/Courtesy of Jack Thomas

I applaud Governor Cuomo for his leadership in jump-starting a critically-needed project; however, why must we buy into the entire platform of “logic” offered regarding the potential bridge tolls and regional toll comparisons?

The proposed $14 toll for the new crossing stunned everyone, and is unacceptable. We need to understand the likely impact of a toll increase on our citizens and local business. In addition to the added cost crunch of getting to work, I believe we will be driving away substantial business from the Palisades Center Mall, which provides nearly 25 percent of all sales tax revenue to our county.

We must acknowledge that a significant number of Westchester residents will choose not to spend $14 to come here, and will instead patronize the new Ridge Hill complex in Yonkers. This is a critical Rockland economic issue that has not been adequately discussed.

We’re told, “Well, we have to pay for it.” Fair enough; there is no such thing as a free lunch. But this bridge is a major component of the Thruway system; why isn’t the cost spread across the entire system? Why are toll dollars collected at the Tappan Zee crossing used for projects across the Thruway? Why is Rockland, the smallest county in the state, bearing the brunt of the entire cost?

And let us explode the myth of what truly is an “apples and oranges” comparison: “Well, the toll will be similar to the Port Authority’s GW Bridge and MTA’s New York City bridges.” This is nonsense and a pure, yet convenient, distraction.

A significant portion of tolls collected at Port Authority crossings support their real estate costs — such as the World Trade Center — and their interests in Stewart International Airport. The lion’s share of tolls collected at New York City bridges (MTA crossings) support the NYC Subway System. Unlike these two agencies, the Thruway Authority, which realizes 94 percent of its revenue from vehicular tolls, has only one major outside cost factor — the New York State Canal System, whose 524-mile inland waterway spans upstate New York!

Yes, your tolls are going to support the waterways of the northernmost section of this State. Why? Because in 1992, our illustrious New York State Legislature successfully transferred funding responsibility from General Funds to the better-hidden approach — using revenues collected by tolls on the Thruway.

In 2006, Governor Pataki proposed recreating the Canal Corporation by 2010 as an independent agency, no longer overseen by the Thruway Authority. Two years later, NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s highly-critical audit offered similar recommendations for divesting Canal operations.

Why are Tappan Zee toll dollars paying for Thruway system-wide projects? What logic explains having a separate NY Bridge Authority draining toll revenue from the Thruway Authority?

It is my opinion that the bridge project is a golden opportunity to improve the entire funding structure of the Thruway. Let’s start by funding the upstate Canal system through the general fund or a separate authority. Merge the two highway authorities into one, bringing additional revenue to the Thruway and reducing cost to drivers.

In the final analysis, I believe the true challenge is to take advantage of the obvious opportunity for government to do things smarter and leaner, and at the same time, to do right by residents of Rockland and the lower Hudson Valley.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day is a member of the Mass Transit Task Force charged with finding county-specific and regional solutions.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2014

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