Audit: NYS Thruway losing money, needs new revenue plan

Posted at 10:39 AM, Nov 17, 2016

The NYS Thruway Authority had an operating loss of $227 million in 2014, according to an audit by NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.  That figured jumped from a $126 million operating loss in 2010.

The comptroller's report said the Thruway Authority will continue to be in fiscal trouble and needs to create a long term plan to better deal with its finances.

"The Thruway Authority should develop a better roadmap for the future," DiNapoli said. “In addition to the Tappan Zee bridge replacement, many of the Thruway Authority’s aging roads and bridges require significant work or repair. Thruway officials need to come up with a viable plan to make ends meet for the long term and clearly lay out how it will affect New York drivers and taxpayers.”

Thruway tolls will not increase in 2017.  The Authority adopted its 2017 budget earlier this month and did not plan any toll hikes.

Auditors said the past decade has particularly hurt the Thruway Authority's pocket book.  According to the audit, responsibility for maintenance costs of additional roads put "a major strain" on the Thruway Authority while traffic dropped considerably.  Between 2005 and 2011, traffic fell by more than 10 percent.

The Thruway Authority has worked to be more fiscally responsible in recent years.  It added a system to reduce toll evasion and reduced its permanent, temporary and provision workforce (while slightly increasing part-time toll collectors).  The Authority estimates these measures have saved it about $26 million annually from 2010 to 2014.

This helps the Authority cover its day-to-day operating costs, but won't help make needed improvements to the Thruway infrastructure.

DiNapoli's report said parts of the roadways and bridges are more than 60 years old and are reaching the end of a safe operating lifespan.  Only 10 percent of roadways and 20 percent of bridges have been replaced or reconstructed.  The Authority said it would cost $13 billion to get the highway back to its original condition.

The audit said the current revenue structure likely won't be able to sustain these growing costs and recommends the Authority develops a long-term plan to address these concerns.

"We will continue to assess and prioritize necessary investments in the Thruway Authority's infrastructure as we develop and implement our annual capital spending plant," said Bill Finch, Acting Executive Director of the Thruway Authority.

The NYS Thruway is a 570 mile tolled highway system.

The Thruway Authority also currently oversees the 524-mile NYS Canal System.  The canal system brought in $2.4 million of revenues in 2015 while costing the Authority more than $62 million to operate.

Control over the canal system is transferring to the New York Power Authority for 2017, but the Thruway will then be responsible for costs associated with NYS Police who patrol the Thruway.  The switch is not expected to impact the Authority's budget.