Students feel pinch as Thruway tolls increase

New York State drivers are feeling another tug on their wallets, as tolls on the Thruway increased across the state.

The 10 percent hike, which began in January 2008, is the second stage of a toll increase approved by the New York State Thruway Authority's Board of Directors in 2005. The first phase of the toll hikes, which occurred in 2005, raised tolls by 25 percent for cash customers and 12.5 percent for E-ZPass customers.

According to an assessment by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, passenger cars on the Thruway are paying about 4 cents per mile.

There are also plans currently under consideration by the Thruway board for a series of toll increases from July 2008 to January 2010. The plan would bring in about $350 million in revenue over the next four years. Under this increase, E-ZPass customers' rate would rise by 28 percent for passenger vehicles and 21 percent for commercial vehicles. Meanwhile, cash customers' prices would rise by 10 percent.

The Thruway Authority claims that toll increases are necessary because there's been slower-than-expected growth in travelers in recent years, causing a decrease in revenue needed for maintenance on the 623-mile-long highway.

Thruway Authority spokeswoman Betsy Graham said the State Comptroller's office already reviewed the need for the 10 percent increase in 2005.

"Without the 2008 cash increase, anticipated for two years, the authority's 2008 budget would not be balanced," she told The Journal News of Westchester County.

Some New York legislators, including Assemblyman Brian Kolb of Ontario County, disagree.

"We think there is a spending problem, not a revenue problem," Kolb said.

Students who frequently travel on the Thruway have been affected by the rising prices.

"It's just irritating because I don't see where the money goes," said visiting 2007 graduate Irene Fiesinger. "E-ZPass makes it easy to forget about, though."

Other students don't seem to have a problem with the increase.

"I didn't notice, and it doesn't really affect me because I don't take the Thruway to get home," said freshman Rachel Moore.

Some concerns surrounding rising tolls have to do with the allocation of budget resources by the authority to the 524-mile canal system that it is also responsible for. The system, which includes the Erie Canal, is a huge drain on the budget, and part of the reason for toll hikes.

Some people argue that drivers should not have to pay higher tolls that support the canal system, not the roads that they drive on.

The additional toll hikes proposed by authority officials have yet to be approved by the Board of Directors. If approved, the board is expected to complete the public hearing and vote on the additional toll increases by the spring.