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Thruway officials review problems that arose during November storm

ALBANY – The state Thruway Authority is conducting an internal review into the problems that hit the highway system during the November lake- effect storm, the new head of the agency said Thursday.

The Thruway Authority is working on a series of ideas “so we don’t fall into some of the same traps that we fell into during that storm," Robert Megna told state lawmakers during a budget hearing in Albany.

Motorists stranded on sections of the highway near Buffalo sharply criticized the agency, and since then several top Thruway officials have left.

Questions were raised about the agency’s response to the storm, including the timing of the shutdown on parts of the highway and whether snow-removal equipment was effectively deployed.

The Thruway already has expanded the use of GPS systems in snowplows, especially in Western New York, Megna said, “so we can see where they are all the time.”

Megna, interim director of the agency, did not give a timetable for release of the internal report, which also will look at how the agency can better cooperate with local highway officials during major storms.

Asked if there would be an outside review instead of relying on the Thruway to judge its own operations, State Sen. Timothy Kennedy, said, “It’s important to see where their initial analysis takes us.’’

The Buffalo Democrat said Megna, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s former budget director, is on the job for just days and trusts that he is “very serious about implementing an aggressive plan” for future major weather events.

On the question of future toll hikes, Megna told lawmakers that the $1.3 billion Cuomo has proposed for the agency – nearly all of it for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project – should all be directed at capital needs. He said he believes the agency’s operating costs can be controlled so that there are not “significant toll increases over a period of time.’’

He was not specific, and declined to give any sort of plan for tolls beyond 2015. Cuomo has said there will be no Thruway toll hikes this year, but is uncertain how much the agency’s Tappan Zee project will end up hiking tolls across the system.