Public opposition did not appear to be intense Monday as the New York State Bridge Authority held a public hearing on proposed toll hikes for its Hudson River crossings. The hearing drew just a few speakers who focused more on a controversial proposed merger than any toll increases.
Four speakers delivered comments during Monday evening's public hearing at the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel. The New York State Bridge Authority oversees five Hudson River bridges: the Bear Mountain, Newburgh-Beacon; Mid-Hudson; Kingston-Rhinecliff; and Rip Van Winkle. 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. Jeff Smith has worked for the Bridge Authority for 20 years.
“I will support the small toll raise to ensure the safety of our bridges, but I refuse to support the merger that will destroy everything the Hudson Valley has worked so hard for for so many years,” Smith says.
He said he has researched a possible merger between the Bridge Authority and the New York State Thruway Authority. Governor Andrew Cuomo initially proposed the merger in his budget, saying consolidating functions would reduce cost and save taxpayers money. Opponents of the merger say the Bridge Authority is run efficiently, the bridges are well maintained and boast among the lowest tolls in the nation, all of which they claim would worsen if a merger with the Thruway Authority occurred. A Thruway spokesperson has previously said that both the Bridge and Thruway authorities operate with some of the lowest tolls in the nation, and that would remain unchanged with a merger. Again, Smith.
“In my 20 years, I have, we have spent, went through handfuls of contracts. CSEA would always ask us what we wanted. And I have to admit, sometimes at the end of negotiations, I felt we deserved a bit more,” says Smith. “What I have come to realize is the Bridge Authority wasn’t saying that we didn’t deserve more, they were saying that the public, the toll payers actually deserved it more than we did. In the end, that meant they could keep tolls at a minimum and keep our bridges safer.”
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. Carl Whitehead has lived in the Town of Poughkeepsie for more than 40 years.
“And I know that just going over the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge there’s definitely in need a repair on the north span there, so I understand why you’re trying to raise some additional money for that. So I’ll support the additional toll raise. Wish E-ZPass would do more than four per car cause I got teenagers and we have one account and that makes it a little difficult moving things back and forth, but,” Whitehead says. “And on this issue of the state Thruway merger, I’d say keep it local here.”
Bridge Authority Acting Executive Director Tara Sullivan presided over the hearing, and several empty chairs. Anthony Adamo is an Ulster County resident and president of the Southern Region for the Civil Service Employees Association.
“This is a little different for CSEA. We are okay with this toll hike and the reason being the tolls going up $0.10 in the first year, we’re talking a total of $0.40 over four years for a toll that we haven’t raised since 2011,” Adamo says. “The reason I support and my membership supports this toll raise is this is a prime example of the sustainability the Bridge Authority has demonstrated and another reason as to why a merger with the Thruway is not needed, not necessary and it’s potentially detrimental.”
Adamo recently spoke during a rally with state lawmakers and others outside Bridge Authority headquarters at the Mid-Hudson Bridge against a proposed merger with the state Thruway Authority. The Bridge Authority's comment period regarding the proposed rules ends March 16.