Higher tolls possible on NY Thruway

Traffic alert from Eyewitness News

June 13, 2012 5:26:06 AM PDT
A major financial rating agency downgraded the New York state Thruway on Tuesday to a negative financial outlook and warned travelers of higher tolls ahead.

Standard & Poor's said it has reduced its outlook on bonds to finance the state Thruway Authority to negative from stable. The ratings agency also said "aggressive" toll increases may be needed and it raised concern about the cost of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.

But the agency affirmed its "A-plus" long-term rating on the Thruway Authority's general revenue bonds. The continued rating reflects the Thruway's essential role as a 500-mile route from New York City to Buffalo and Pennsylvania, as well as a lack of a feasible alternative for trucks and cars.

In May, the Thruway Authority blamed past administrations for fiscal problems during the recession that sparked a proposed "modest" increase of 45 percent for three-axle trucks and larger trucks.

The ratings report opened the door for further toll increases that could hit automobile drivers when it noted the increase would be used for maintenance, not for Cuomo's plan to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. The cost of a toll for a car from New York City to Buffalo is about $20.

"The negative outlook reflects our concern that the timing and magnitude of revenue enhancement and operational streamlining initiatives might not be enough to offset (the Thruway Authority's) significant additional debt needs," Standard and Poor's stated.

If the authority adopts an "aggressive tolling regime" that accounts for the Tappan Zee Bridge repair costs and other capital spending, the outlook could be upgraded to stable within two years, the report said.

The $5.2 billion project would build two spans to replace an aging, overcrowded bridge across the Hudson River in New York City's northern suburbs. The bridge carries Interstate 287 over the river between Rockland and Westchester counties. The Obama administration this spring rejected a $2 billion loan application. But another round of applications is planned.

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