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Desperately needed revamp should help Thruway Authority recover from recent stumbles

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is moving to put new muscle – financial, managerial and political – behind the Thruway Authority, nominating new leaders with expertise to run the state’s troubled toll road while devoting surplus money from legal settlements to shoring up the system’s balance sheet. These are heartening signs.

The personnel move follows the resignations of former Authority Chairman Howard Milstein, a developer without obvious qualifications for the position, as well as Executive Director Thomas J. Madison and Chief Financial Officer John Bryan.

The financial boost was part of Cuomo’s state budget proposal, which would direct $1.3 billion to the Thruway to help keep tolls frozen, pay for road repairs and possibly pay the largest chunk of the cost of replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River. The money is part of an unexpected $5 billion in legal settlements and fines from the likes of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

No explanations were offered for any of the resignations, though they followed intense criticism of the authority over its performance in the November storm that paralyzed the Thruway from Rochester to the Pennsylvania state line, stranding dozens of motorists.

The New York Post reported that a soon-to-be-released “damaging” report by State Inspector General Catherine Leavy Scott prompted the resignations of Madison and Bryan. In addition, the authority is facing a $36 million deficit and its $4 billion Tappan Zee project is in a financial quagmire.

All are good reasons to change leadership on an authority whose performance affects millions of drivers a year. If the state really has to support a Thruway Authority in addition to its Department of Transportation – a dubious conclusion, but never mind – then it at least ought to field a management team that does a better job than has been demonstrated recently.

That seems to be a strong possibility, given the people Cuomo has tapped. To replace Milstein as the authority’s unpaid chairman, he has selected Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, a Republican who has twice endorsed Cuomo for governor. As executive director, he chose one of his most trusted aides, Robert L. Megna.

Megna has been the state’s budget director since 2009 – even before Cuomo’s first term as governor – and he has the governor’s ear. His fiscal acumen will be useful in dealing with the authority’s deficit, and he will have a direct line to the governor as he works to improve the authority’s performance.

It will be important to review the inspector general’s report on the authority both to understand its criticisms and to get a sense of what the new leadership needs to do to fix the authority. That report should be made public as soon as possible.

In the meantime, it’s good to see not just two talented people placed in top positions at the authority, but two people who are familiar with upstate. Mahoney was born there, still lives there and understands about lake-effect storms.

As to the financial support, Cuomo’s proposal represents an appropriate use of that $1.3 billion. It will benefit all New Yorkers and help keep tolls down not only by the infusion of cash, but by helping to limit financial impact of the Tappan Zee project.