With tolls frozen on the Mario Cuomo Bridge through 2020, New York state Senator David Carlucci is growing anxious about what an increase could look like thereafter. He is pushing for the Thruway Authority to come to the table for toll discussions this year and wants to see resident discounts.
Democratic state Senator David Carlucci, whose 38th District includes the Rockland side of the bridge, wants language in the budget due April 1 pertaining to tolls on the 3.1-mile span.
“The bridge looks beautiful. They got the lights on at night. It’s a shiny, new bridge .It looks great, but we can have all those bells and whistles, but if we can’t afford to cross it, that will absolutely crush our economy. And this uncertainty is a major drag that we’ve got to fix,” Carlucci says. “So that’s why in this budget I’m hopeful that we’ll have resolution to expand the toll freeze and/or have a resident discount for our local residents to make sure that they’re not put shouldering the cost of this really national infrastructure project.”
Toll are frozen through the end of 2020, and Carlucci wants an advisory group to come to the table.
“And the governor said that he would appoint a toll task force to talk about the issues. And I’ve been pushing this. I even got a letter from the Thruway Authority back in 2017 saying that they would meet by the end of the year. Well, it’s 2019. They still haven’t met. Now the clock is ticking and people are getting very anxious, very concerned about what will be,” says Carlucci. “And that uncertainty is a major drag on our economy. If they’re talking about raising that toll, that drives people away from either buying a house here or relocating a business here or starting a business.”
The toll task force would meet under the umbrella of the New York State Thruway Authority. And any toll increase would be subject to a Thruway Authority administrative process. A Thruway Authority spokeswoman declined to comment, citing ongoing budget negotiations.
In 2015, the Thruway Authority announced the formation of a New NY Bridge Toll Advisory Task Force along with the task force’s members. Prior to being named the Mario Cuomo Bridge, the state referred to the bridge as the New NY Bridge. The intention was for the task force to report its recommendations in mid-2016. In 2016, though, the state came into bank settlement money, and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he was freezing the tolls through 2020. Again, Carlucci, on the task force.
“We put in language to require them to meet. I’ve been trying to pass legislation to require them to meet,” says Carlucci. “I got a written commitment from the head of the Thruway Authority at the time that they would be meeting. And they just threw it to the wayside. It just is, it’s negligent, it’s negligent to do it. We don’t have transparency.”
A spokesman for Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day says Day has written to Governor Cuomo and the Thruway Authority about convening the tolls task force. His letters have also called for a resident discount, which Day has urged for a long time should tolls on the bridge increase. Day also would like to see the toll freeze extended.
In addition, Carlucci was working to include language in the budget that stems from his Toll Payer Protection Act, which Cuomo vetoed in December.
“I have put forward language in the budget, in the Senate one-house resolution, that is a modified version of the Toll Payer Protection Act. I think what it does is it strengthens the legislation that we had in terms of offering an amnesty program for people that have just been totally left behind, we’re talking about thousands of dollars in fines that people didn’t even know about,” Carlucci says. “So this causing major problems for so many people. We’ve got to straighten that out.”
Carlucci says the legislation was born out of issues that arose with the company that operates cashless tolling on the bridge. In 2018, he said numerous drivers were charged unreasonable penalties and fines, and his bill sought to enact a Toll Payers’ Bill of Rights that allows drivers to set up fee payment plans and opt for notifications and itemized bills. That year, the Thruway Authority implemented a five-week Amnesty Program and cut toll violation fees in half, to $50 per trip.