A defiant state Thruway Authority on Wednesday moved forward with plans to raise tolls on the Thruway, despite calls from state legislators to hold off until a state audit is completed.
The Thruway Authority wants to raise tolls 5 percent in both 2009 and 2010 and also cut in half the discounts for the roughly 1 million E-Z Pass customers starting in July.
The authority’s board didn’t give final approval to the toll increases today, but agreed to move forward with the process — which will include an environmental review and public hearings around the state over the next few months. A final vote on the toll increases is expected in mid-April.
The potential toll increases are on top of a 10 percent increase for cash customers starting on Jan. 6. That increase was approved in 2005.
The seven-member authority has been under increasing pressure from state lawmakers to back off the toll increases until the state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli finishes an audit of the authority’s operations, expected some time next month.
Yet board members said during its monthly meeting that it has to push ahead with its plan in order to ensure roads are safe and the authority’s budget is balanced.
“Our first and foremost responsibility is to the safety of the public,” said board member Nancy Carey Cassidy. “We also have a fiduciary responsibility.”
Earlier today, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester, urged the board to hold off until the audit is completed. The Democratic assemblyman warned that board members will be called to testify at an Assembly hearing if they continue to move forward with the toll increases.
“The Thruway Authority Board of Directors owes to the people of New York a detailed explanation of why tolls would be increased without first demanding cost-cutting measures and other economies from Authority management,” Gantt said. “If calling board members to testify at a hearing is the only way to get that explanation, then that is what we will do.”
Authority officials said the public process will allow for negotiations on whether the state should take control of the state’s canal system, which is now run by the Thruway Authority at an annual loss of about $80 million. If the canal system was taken off the Thruway’s books, the toll increases may be unnecessary, authority officials said.