BUFFALO, NY - When the New York State Thruway Authority's board met last week, a committee had been set to vote on an item that would allow "the executive director to prepare for toll rate adjustments."
However, the item was removed from the agenda without explanation.
On Monday Western New York's representative on the Thruway Authority Board, Donna Luh, offered no further explanation on why the item was pulled, but told Two On Your Side: "we're working with financial consultants, bankers, and authority staff, and coming up with a plan that will address our overall financial needs."
Luh, who currently serves as Vice Chair of the board, also confirmed that the Thruway Authority continues to concentrate on formulating plans on how to pay for a new Tappan Zee Bridge.
The Tappan Zee is a mammoth span over the Hudson River, which the Thruway authority seeks to replace it at a cost of $5.2 billion.
So far, the Thruway Authority has been mum on whether the budget plan might include a toll hike -- and if it does -- whether the increase would be for just that bridge and sections of the Thruway which surround it, or if the rest of the more than 500 mile super highway would be affected.
"The fairness element would be to most directly tie this to the people who are using the new bridge," suggested Andrew Rudnick, President of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
The Partnership is part of an alignment of pro-business agencies and Chambers of Commerce throughout upstate New York called "Unshackle Upstate", which collectively seek changes in certain state regulations and policies which they claim hamper the upstate economy in particular.
Unshackle Upstate says it would be particularly concerned if it turned out that a toll hike were implemented to primarily pay for something several hundred miles from Western New York.
"It's never too early to be wary, that's for sure, and this is still a small enough state with regard to who is making those kinds of decisions so that we can stay on top of it," Rudnick told WGRZ-TV.
At the same time, however, Rudnick remarked that such a move would not be without precedent, noting that when the Thruway Authority removed toll barriers in Buffalo a half dozen years ago, the resulting lost revenue was made up by increasing tolls for motorists in other parts of the state.
Asked if she would favor or oppose a toll hike, Luh said, "I will support what is good for the authority in a responsible way. I'm not just going to say 'I'm against all toll increases just so I can be quoted as saying that' ...I represent upstate, and I will certainly make sure that things are fairly done."
Luh, who could not offer any additional insight as to whether a toll hike might be proffered in the near future, said to take position for or against before knowing when-- or even if-- there's one in the works would be "irresponsible".
Click on the video player to watch our story from Two On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher from Eden.