Thruway tolls are still higher, but the projects they were meant to fund have diminished.
So, now, while Western New Yorkers' costs for driving on the Thruway have risen, the Williamsville barrier will remain where it is instead of moving to Newstead, the stretch of highway between West Seneca and Lackawanna will remain at three lanes instead of four and its bridges won't be replaced.
There are real reasons for this -- expansion of the Chinese economy is driving up the costs of steel and concrete; the high price of oil has inflated the cost of asphalt -- but however legitimate they may be, they do nothing to answer doubts about the need to have raised tolls in the first place. Indeed, these factors have been in place for long enough that Thruway planners should have been taking them into account long before this.
This was always a bad time to raise tolls, and with Wall Street dragging down the economy -- and with it, Albany's revenues -- it has only become worse. Now, adding insult to injury, some of the most sought-after projects in Western New York and elsewhere in the state won't be funded.
Thruway officials should look into rescinding all or part of this year's toll hikes. As a starting point in that process, they should review the audit conducted by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The report, issued in January, recommended that, instead of hiking tolls, the Thruway Authority should defer non-essential construction projects and look for other ways to raise and save money.
"It's easy to raise tolls, but the Thruway Authority should take a hard look in the mirror before it pushes another toll hike on New Yorkers," DiNapoli concluded. "Toll hikes are not warranted until the Thruway Authority examines its own spending."
If that made sense in January, it makes vastly more sense now. The economy is reeling, unemployment is rising, gasoline costs are exorbitant, taxes may go up . . . and we have to pay higher tolls and not even get the projects that were promised?