Audit, again, knocks Thruway's finances

ALBANY -- A state audit Thursday again raised red flags about the Thruway Authority’s finances, saying the agency that oversees the 570-mile thoroughfare hasn’t planned a long-term strategy.

The Thruway needs repairs and is building a new $3.9 billion Tappan Zee Bridge in the Hudson Valley, but it doesn't have a long-term capital plan to address its needs, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in the audit.

“The Thruway Authority should develop a better roadmap for the future," DiNapoli said in a statement. “In addition to the Tappan Zee bridge replacement, many of the Thruway Authority’s aging roads and bridges require significant work or repair."

The Thruway's finances have faced scrutiny from DiNapoli, consultants and bond-rating agencies in recent years as revenue stagnated and costs soared, particularly to build the new bridge.

The concerns, though, have been partially quelled because Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shifted about $2 billion to the Thruway to cover its costs and stave off toll hikes through 2020.

Also next year, the state is taking the 524-mile canal system off the Thruway's books, an annual savings of about $60 million.

The Thruway Authority said it has taken steps to lower costs as it builds the bridge and repairs the superhighway, which stretches across the state.

Toll revenue, the Thruway's main revenue source, has also increased recently.

The audit noted that the authority's expenses dropped 8.5 percent between 2010 and 2014, while revenues increased 3.6 percent.

In its response to the audit, the authority said it would look to developing a long-term strategic plan.

“We are making major capital investments in our system including the New NY Bridge to replace the Tappan Zee, one of the largest infrastructure projects of its kind in the country," the authority said in a statement.

"We are repairing bridges and roadways across the state, all while keeping our highway safe for millions of motorists a year. We will continue implementing a variety of cost reduction strategies – all of which the comptroller readily acknowledges in his report.”

Still, DiNapoli warned the Thruway hasn't developed a plan to address its long-term costs.

In particular, the Thruway hasn't announced the cost of the toll for the new bridge -- which now as a $5 roundtrip fare. Also, it hasn't laid out its entire funding plan for the bridge.

DiNapoli said the Thruway by its own estimates have about $13 billion of needed repairs to the highway.

"Thruway officials need to come up with a viable plan to make ends meet for the long term and clearly lay out how it will affect New York drivers and taxpayers," DiNapoli, who also audited the agency in 2008, said.

Still, he said the Thruway has taken some positive steps, such as reducing toll evasions and cutting its workforce by 13 percent to cover costs.


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