Thu October 23, 2008
Comptroller Advises Thruway to Hold Off on Toll Hikes
By Bud Lowell
Rochester, NY – State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the New York Thruway Authority has started adopting some new financial practices -- but his department's latest audit finds the authority doesn't have a clear explanation for its capital spending plan.
DiNapoli released his fifth audit of the Thruway Authority in Rochester Thursday morning, this time looking at the Thruway's $2.7 billion construction plan for 2005 through 2011. He says his staff can't tell what the top priorities are -- what the actual costs will be -- or whether the Thruway Authority actually needed the toll hike it imposed earlier this year to fund the projects.
You can find the audit report online at the New York State Comptroller's website.
DiNapoli says his office looked at nearly 500 Thruway project items and found costs were running more than 19 percent above the original capital plan. He says the authority doesn't report on the status of individual projects and it doesn't have a prioritized list of what bridge and pavement repairs need to be done first.
The Thruway is run by an independent state authority, so the comptroller doesn't have any authority over it. But DiNapoli says he's recommending the Thruway hold off on two more planned toll hikes for next year until it can explain to its own management and the public just what the money will be used for.
Thruway Authority Chairman John Buono replied to the audit in a two page letter which says he accepts the comptroller's recommendations. But he also says the toll increases were justified by double-digit increases in construction costs and what he called the "meteoric" rise in motor fuel prices.
DiNapoli says as the economy shrinks and government funds grow short, it's vital that the authority be sure it's spending on the top safety priorities first. His audit recommends a more open budget planning process for the Thruway Authority, with numerical rankings on bridge and highway construction needs. He says the board needs to do regular reviews of its capital plan to make sure things are on track and conditions haven't changed too much.
DiNapoli contrasted the Thruway Authority with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which he says is able to justify its capital spending and put the information on its website for public view.