State lawmakers and others stood outside the New York state Bridge Authority headquarters at the Mid-Hudson Bridge Thursday to speak out against a proposed merger with the state Thruway Authority. They say such a merger would negatively impact the five Bridge Authority crossings. Thruway Authority officials, however, see it differently.
Assemblymember Jonathan Jacobson represents areas near the Mid-Hudson and Newburgh-Beacon Bridges.
“The proposed plan is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem,” Jacobson says.
The Bridge Authority also oversees three other Hudson River crossings — the Bear Mountain, Kingston-Rhinecliff; and Rip Van Winkle Bridges.
“This merger would drastically and detrimentally affect both the economy and overall quality of the life in the region. It will be devastating,” Jacobson says. “Our fear is simple. First, that tolls generated in the Hudson Valley from the Bridge Authority bridges will be diverted to fund a new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. Second, that the Thruway Authority will raise tolls on the Bridge Authority bridges while simultaneously allowing their condition to deteriorate.”
Fellow Democratic Assemblymember Sandy Galef:
“It’s just a bad proposal,” Galef says. “I’m for change. This is a crazy, crazy change, and so we need to fight it at all avenues, and we will in Albany, in the Assembly and the Senate.
They 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. In a statement, a Thruway spokesperson says, “Scare tactics aside, the facts here are clear: both the Bridge and Thruway authorities operate with some of the lowest tolls in the nation, and that would remain unchanged with a merger as their revenue and how it is utilized will — and must be — invested to support their operations and capital programs. The Thruway Authority hasn’t raised tolls in 10 years and that same fiscal discipline would be brought to the Bridge Authority which last year nixed a 60 percent toll increase for a more modest adjustment after receiving guidance from the State.”
Speaking on WAMC earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo said such a merger could result in more efficiencies and save taxpayers money.
“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.”
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. These are the proposed increases after the aforementioned adjustment.
“To date, no one has been able to give me a concrete answer as to how much, if any, money this proposed consolidation may actually save New Yorkers,” says Serino. “Nor have I gotten a guarantee that the tolls on our local bridges won’t rise.”
Republican state Senator Sue Serino has another concern.
“Not only would this plan consolidate the two authorities, but the proposal would only give all of our Hudson Valley counties one representative on the Thruway Authority’s board. And when you think about that that’s eight counties with one voice,” Serino says. “This is no different that the arrangement we currently have with the MTA, where we have four Hudson Valley counties in the MTA region and each only get a quarter of the vote, rendering our voices moot.”
“I think the real reason that this proposal has come forward is that we’re looking at the tolls on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. And there has been such a delay in increasing them to where they really think that they have to be in order to pay for that bridge,” Galef says. “And, what I believe that they’re doing is trying to grab the money from these very efficient five bridges north of the Tappan Zee Bridge and use that money to lower the tolls on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.”
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.
Board Chairman Richard Gerentine says none of the Bridge Authority bridges has ever been red-flagged.
“What’s happening here I don’t think is fair. I don’t think it’s needed,” says Gerentine. “I was never contacted, or the board was never contacted by the governor’s office saying there’s efficiencies, what are the efficiencies we’re referring to?”
The last toll hikes on Bridge Authority bridges took effect in 2012.