Two Westchester assemblymen last week called on the state to set equitable tolls on the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and strongly urged the Thruway Authority to provide discounts for Westchester and Rockland residents.
Assemblymen Tom Abinanti (D-Pleasantville) and David Buchwald (D-White Plains) provided statements to the New York State Thruway Authority Toll Advisory Panel, which met in Tarrytown last Thursday in anticipation of bridge toll hikes after the price moratorium expires at the end of next year.
Abinanti said that under the Thruway Authority’s latest proposed formula bridge users would incur the entire cost of the bridge as well as contributing to system-wide Thruway improvements.
“Tappan Zee Bridge tolls will rise to more than $10 only if we use the Thruway Authority’s new proposed formula requiring that Tappan Zee Bridge toll payers continue to contribute to the cost of the entire Thruway system and, in addition, assume all of the new costs of the new bridges,” Abinanti said.
Buchwald said the new bridge is a linchpin for the regional transportation system, but Thruway officials have thus far failed to provide the public with meaningful information.
“Full transparency is essential. If the bridge toll is to be increased, the public deserves to know exactly how that relates to paying for the costs of the new bridge,” Buchwald said. “I do not think it is appropriate to meaningfully raise tolls without everyone understanding the long-term financial situation, including the extent to which a toll increase would pay for the bridge and Rockland/Westchester Thruway improvements or if it would subsidize other Thruway operations.”
He and Abinanti called on the Thruway Authority to provide toll discounts for residents of Westchester and Rockland counties. Buchwald also pressed for a reduced combination toll for commuters who then travel into Manhattan so they won’t be hit with two major tolls once the congestion pricing goes into effect.
Abinanti, whose district includes Tarrytown, where the eastern side of the bridge is anchored, has proposed three potential formulas that he believes is fair. One alternative is to dedicate all Cuomo bridge tolls only to bridge costs. Another is to dedicate all revenues from each of the Thruway Authority’s regions to pay for the costs of that region so the downstate region’s tolls would be set to meet the area’s costs.
A third suggestion would be to continue the current formula of using Thruway Authority revenues statewide to pay for all Thruway costs, including new bridges, and set the level necessary to meet all costs. He said Cuomo bridge construction costs were originally estimated at $5.2 billion with a projected $14 toll to pay for the project. However, the last figures had costs at $3.9 billion with the projected toll reduced by a least 20 percent, Abinanti said.
Six years ago, using 2013 numbers, Abinanti said he calculated that any of his three formulas could result in bridge car tolls of no more than $6 to $7 with local resident discounts.
“Bridge tolls will rise to more than $10 only if we use an unfair formula requiring that bridge toll payers continue to subsidize the cost of the entire Thruway system and, in addition, assume all of the new costs of the new bridges,” Abinanti said.
Other area officials similarly urged the Thruway Authority for fair toll pricing. Rockland County Executive Ed Day said over the past 20 years tolls on commercial traffic, particularly five-axle trucks, has lagged. The toll for a five-axle truck in October 2000 was raised to $20 during rush hour and is now at $32.75, he said.
As a result, a published report revealed that truck traffic on the bridge in 2017 was 2.4 million vehicles, an increase of one million trucks in the previous seven years.
“There is no question that it is well past time that the commercial toll rates for the bridge be dramatically increased,” Day said.
He added that any toll increase must set aside a percentage of revenue for dedicated transit capital improvements between Rockland and Westchester.
State Sen. David Carlucci (D-New City), whose district also includes Ossining, said there should be no toll hike on the bridge beyond 2020 unless it can be justified. He said the advisory panel, which was entirely selected by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, had not met before last week since it’s 2015 creation.
“Simply put, commuters cannot afford a toll hike on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, and any panel tasked with determining the toll rate needs to be accountable to the people,” Carlucci said. “Representing Rockland and Westchester counties, I know that residents are strapped financially, and a toll increase will pose a significant financial burden on them.”