CATSKILL — In an ongoing trend of shared services and consolidation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a merger between the New York State Bridge Authority and the New York State Thruway Authority in his budget proposal.
Established in 1932, the Bridge Authority is responsible for maintaining the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, Mid-Hudson Bridge and Bear Mountain Bridge. The Thruway Authority, which was established in 1954, oversees the 570-mile superhighway, with 814 bridges, 118 interchanges, 11 toll barriers and 27 service areas, according to thruway.ny.gov.
Both the Bridge Authority and Thruway Authority are in the process of converting to cashless tolling.
To leverage their expertise, increase coordination and operate more efficiently, the FY 2021 budget merges the Bridge Authority into the Thruway Authority, according to governor.ny.gov.
Greene County Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Friedman has serious reservations about the proposed law.
“The proposed budget pushes a merger of the state Bridge Authority into the state Thruway Authority under the guise of efficiency,” Friedman wrote in a letter to state lawmakers. “This could not be further from the truth.”
Unlike other state authorities, the Bridge Authority does not operate on taxpayer dollars, instead relying on tolls, Friedman said.
“With a modest crew of 50 maintenance workers, these massive structures are meticulously cared for all year round,” he wrote. “There is a reason the oldest bridge in the Bridge Authority, the Bear Mountain Bridge, is almost 100 years old and standing strong.”
Friedman expressed concern over the Thruway Authority’s maintenance of bridges, specifically the Tappan Zee Bridge.
“Built in the ’50s, the Tappan Zee was named one of the most decrepit and dangerous bridges in the U.S. by New York Magazine in 2013,” Friedman wrote. “At the time it was decommissioned, the Tappan Zee had over 1,200 red-flagged structural issues.”
Another concern Friedman has is the potential for toll increases. The Rip Van Winkle Bridge is scheduled for an increase in May.
For E-ZPass customers, the rate will increase 10 cents per year for four years, topping out at $1.65 in 2023. Cash rates will increase from $1.50 to $2.15 by 2023, according to the Bridge Authority.
The 2020 increase marks the authority’s first toll hike in seven years. Tolls have risen four times in the Bridge Authority’s 87-year history.
“These projects include the replacement of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge deck, major painting and paving projects at the other four Hudson Valley bridges, as well as the transition to all electronic tolling,” according to the Bridge Authority.
The Thruway is also in the process of converting to cashless tolling, a $353.3 million project. Tolls rates on the Thruway are frozen through 2020, according to thruway.ny.gov.
There are several components to Cuomo’s proposed merger, including that the state will not authorize construction or maintenance of any additional bridges over the Hudson River. The law will also not infringe upon the authority’s right to establish and collect tolls “as may be convenient or necessary to produce sufficient revenue to meet the expense of maintenance and operation...”
If approved, the law would abolish the Bridge Authority when all obligations to the holders of bonds have been paid in full or otherwise fully meet and discharged, according to the law.
The Thruway Authority will absorb all of the rights, functions, powers, duties, obligations, covenants, pledges, undertakings, properties, debts, agreements, assets and liabilities of the Bridge Authority, according to the law.
All Bridge Authority employees will be transferred to the Thruway Authority, according to the law.