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Another Voice: Electronic tolling should not be Thruway’s priority

By Daryl Bodewes, Samuel Capitano and Gary Swain

A recent News editorial, “Thruway Authority needs to speed up the transition to electronic collection,” lamented the delay in the implementation of all-electronic tolling on the Thruway. While such modernization would have obvious benefits for the traveling public, one key point was neglected: How to pay for an initiative likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

We now have gained some insight into that question and the answer should greatly concern Western New York and the entire state.

The Thruway Authority and the Cuomo administration are actively considering moving hundreds of millions of dollars from the Thruway’s only recently approved capital program to fund a transition to electronic tolls.

This is a recipe for disaster for the Thruway, itself such a vital lifeline not just for our region but the entire state, because the Thruway is already literally falling apart – and without being raided, the existing capital plan is already far too small to meet the system’s growing needs.

The Thruway is unique in that it was all built at roughly the same time. That means its pavements and bridges all age out and need replacement or reconstruction at the same time – and that time has come.

To put it in perspective, only 10 percent of the 2,400 lane-miles of pavement on the Thruway system have been reconstructed, leaving 90 percent unaddressed. The Thruway has a goal to rebuild the rest within 20 years, meaning at least 110 lane-miles must be rebuilt each year. In reality, over the last several years, less than 50 lane-miles per year have been rebuilt.

At this rate, motorists will be driving on century-old roadway. We have already seen the direct impact of deferred reconstruction with the need to reduce the speed limit on a stretch of Thruway that could no longer safely allow travel at 65 miles per hour.

The Thruway’s bridges present a similarly dire picture. Of 809 bridges, there are about 620 currently older than 60 years, having generally been built with a life expectancy of 50 years. The Thruway should be replacing at least 30 bridges a year to keep pace, not the 5 to 10 currently being addressed annually.

At this rate, motorists will be passing over or under bridges that are 160 years old.
Clearly, this is not sustainable. And instead of facing that reality and generating revenue and investment to rebuild the Thruway, there’s talk of carving up the agency’s capital plan for electronic tolling.

In the abstract, electronic tolling is a great idea, but enthusiasm for it is sure to be tempered by the fact the roads and bridges motorists are paying to use are crumbling and would do so at an increasing rate if such a foolish plan is turned into action.

Daryl Bodewes is council representative of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters. Samuel Capitano is business manager for Upstate New York Laborers District Council and Laborers Local 210. Gary Swain is business manager of I.U.O.E. Loca

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