Proposal To Merge Two Authorities Rankles Some HV Lawmakers
In his budget, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposes merging the state Thruway Authority with the Bridge Authority. Several Hudson Valley lawmakers oppose the idea, staying protective of the Bridge Authority.
Speaking with WAMC’s Alan Chartock last week, Cuomo explained why he favors such a merger.
“Savings, efficiency, economies of scale, two agencies doing the same thing. Why do we have two agencies, two heads, two cars, two offices, two Xerox machines, two of everything,” says Cuomo. “Why not save the taxpayer money – do it better, do it faster, do it more efficiently.”
The New York State Bridge Authority oversees five Hudson River bridges: the Bear Mountain, Newburgh-Beacon; Mid-Hudson; Kingston-Rhinecliff; and Rip Van Winkle. Democratic state Senator James Skoufis represents the 39th District.
“I have serious concerns about merging the Bridge Authority with the Thruway Authority. You pay $1.25, $1.50 to travel over these mid-Hudson bridges and that’s, that’s pretty rare nowadays where you can travel over a bridge for that kind of a toll,” Skoufis says. “And I have reservations that the motivation here is to use the mid-Hudson bridges, which are doing quite well, their balance sheets are positive, to subsidize the Thruway Authority expenses. And I’m not going to go along with that. And that’s one place I’m going to be pushing back quite significantly.”
Cash tolls for regular vehicles on Bridge Authority bridges are $1.50, with proposed increases to $1.75 in May; staying this rate in 2021; going to $2 in May 2022 and $2.15 in 2023. The current E-ZPass discount of $1.25 would rise $0.10 each year through 2023. Republican state Assemblyman Colin Schmitt opposes a merger.
“So I’m a big no on this proposal. I’ll stand opposed. And my constituents and residents of the area, people who work in my district, who commute across these bridges are concerned about it. And they do not want the Bridge Authority to be absorbed into the larger Thruway Authority. The focus will be fully lost,” Schmitt says. “And I just stress, the proposal will harm commuters by increasing toll rates, and no doubt that toll rates will increase if this merger occurs, and it will shift the focus and budget allocations away from bridge maintenance and operations to other areas not connected with the Bridge Authority’s current work.”
Schmitt’s 99th District includes part of Orange County and a town in Rockland. Many of his constituents use the Bear Mountain and Newburgh-Beacon Bridges. And the Bridge Authority cites a large project — re-decking of the north span of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge — as a major reason for the need to increase tolls.
“Right now, I’ve been in the process of opposing the Bridge Authority’s request to have a toll hike I’m against all toll hikes,” says Schmitt. “But this, if this merger were going to go through, you would certainly not only see a proposed toll hike, you would see a much more significant toll hike.”
Schmitt is concerned that attention to the five Hudson River bridges currently under the Bridge Authority’s purview would be lost in a merger with the larger Thruway Authority. Democratic Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson shares a similar concern. He calls the proposed merger ill-thought, and says if the Bridge Authority is eliminated, the benefits and efficiencies currently enjoyed by Hudson Valley residents will be lost. Meantime, Democratic state Senator David Carlucci, who represents the 38th District that includes the Rockland side of the Thruway-operated Mario Cuomo Bridge, says such a merger makes sense.
“For a long time, I’ve called for consolidating our Authorities. I think it’s where we need to go. We have the Bridge Authority, the Thruway Authority the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Port Authority. The list goes on and on,” Carlucci says. “So we need to do what we can to consolidate our transportation infrastructure, to consolidate it to make sure that the focus is on having the most efficient, most cost-effective infrastructure in the nation.”
“They’re doing the same basic thing. You’re running the Thruway, you’re running roads, you’re running bridges, you’re doing maintenance, you’re clearing snow, you’re setting tolls. Why not consolidate like functions to reduce the cost,” Cuomo says. “Flipside is, well, people who now have the Bridge Authority want the separate authority because they feel it is closer to them or whatever the rationale.”
At the end of 2019, the Thruway Authority Board of Directors proposed new tolls for the Mario Cuomo Bridge, including a discount for Rockland and Westchester residents that would hold the current $4.75 E-ZPass rate through 2022. Other increases would take effect beginning in 2021.
It has been 10 years since the last toll increase took effect on the Thruway. The last toll hikes on Bridge Authority bridges took effect in 2012.