Editorial: Toll hike affects more than trucks

`Remember when the leaders of this great state of New York told us that eventually it wouldn't cost anything to drive along the Thruway? Unfortunately, spending money is like oxygen to these people, and when they're feeling short of breath, they always find a way to get more air.

This time it's in the form of a proposed 45 percent toll increase for vehicles with three or more axles, which won't impact an average family that hops in a minivan and heads for New York City or Buffalo. The thing is, while the price increase targets mostly big-rigs and other larger vehicles, the proposal will have a ripple effect that will hit everyone's wallets.

Right now, if a tractor-trailer gets on the Thruway in Amsterdam (exit 27) and heads for Buffalo (exit 50), it costs $39.60 in tolls if the driver pays in cash. Under the new proposal, the same trip will cost $57.40, according to the details of the plan on the Thruway Authority website (www.thruway.ny.gov). That's just for the privilege of driving on I-90 and doesn't include gas and other travel expenses.

Since most of the vehicles impacted by the proposal are commercial, you can bet these companies are going to pass the costs down to their customers. That doesn't just include people buying goods from some of these businesses, but people such as farmers, who are still a major component of Montgomery County's economy, and other firms who rely on truck transportation to get their wares into the marketplace.

The potential impact goes beyond the cost of doing business. Companies could begin finding alternate ways to get around the Empire State. While the Thruway is the easiest way to travel across the state and the most ideal because it passes through most of New York's major cities, there are other ways to get around.

For example, take I-86, the former Route 17 that cuts across the southern stretch of the state and was upgraded to an interstate a few years ago. Instead of hopping up I-87 to I-90, a truck travelling from New York to Syracuse could hope on I-86 and catch I-81 in Binghamton, avoiding the Thruway altogether and not paying a dime in tolls.

If that results in fewer trucks on the Thruway, now we're talking about a potential negative impact to rest area plazas and truck stops along the way. Montgomery County has two plazas that are major sources of sales tax revenue, and places like Fultonville rely on the truck stops there to keep the business community kicking.

Montgomery County also touts the fact that I-90 passes right through the county as an asset when it comes to economic development, and continued growth in places like the town of Florida business park are examples of what can happen when companies have easy access to transportation. Making it more expensive to drive on the Thruway could prompt companies to look elsewhere. The county, and its communities, cannot afford to lose any more income and business, especially those that will create jobs.

We agree with assemblymen George Amedore and Marc Butler when they say the larger issue may be that the Thruway is operated by a public authority, many of which operate outside the boundaries of open government laws and are often run by people who got their jobs because of political favors and nepotism. We believe if the Thruway Authority is truly short on revenue, it should be forced to open its books to a forensic auditor and back those claims up. We also see the merits in Amedore's proposal to give the state Legislature the authority to vote on proposed toll increases, although we're short on confidence that lawmakers would keep those costs down because they like to spend money just as much as the authorities do.

With the gasoline price hovering around $4 a gallon, slow economic growth and upstate New York's struggles to get more people to work, the last thing the state needs to do is make it more expensive to transport goods and services. The toll hike is more than just about paying more at the booths. It's too bad the Thruway Authority doesn't seem to recognize this.