By Joe Kuhn
Rockland County Legislator Harriet Cornell is unhappy with the New York State Thruway Department. In a letter submitted to the department, Cornell, who also serves as the Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislatures Special Committee on Transit, voiced her concerns that their proposed toll increase for the Mario Cuomo Bridge will disproportionality affect Rocklanders.
The new proposal would, in 2021, raise rates only for the E-Zpass customers who use the Cuomo Bridge: Cornell argued that such an increase would require New Yorkers who heavily rely on the bridge to pay more than their fair share to maintain the entire state Thruway system.
“This (proposal) seems unfair and a return to the practices of the past, when – for decades – tolls from the Tappan Zee Bridge (the Cuomo’s predecessor), paid for costs throughout the entire Thruway corridor and New York State” explained Cornell. “In fact, the TZB’s toll revenue was used by the Thruway Authority to bail out the Canal Authority year after year after year.”
The legislator urged the Thruway Department to consider a plan that would spread the burden more evenly, stating, “if increases are needed, the impact must be shared equally, from the Cuomo bridge to the Woodbury exit to the Buffalo exits and so forth.”
“While I also appreciate that the Thruway’s plan includes a discount for daily commuters, their daily cost to cross the Cuomo bridge would increase by 15 percent between now and 2022, from $3 per day to $3.45 per day. This increase is unacceptable because Cuomo commuters have few meaningful public transportation options, forcing them to drive across the bridge; they have no real way of avoiding a toll increase.
Similarly, while the Thruway’s plan to keep tolls steady for Rockland and Westchester residents and businesses for the next two years seems positive, it deflects from the fact that Rockland, in particular, has very few choices when it comes to public transportation. With so many workers and families suffering economic hardships at this time, and few public transportation options available, a significant discount is warranted, not an increase,” wrote Cornell.
The legislator also pointed out that Rocklands commuters are at risk of losing their only alternative method of crossing the Hudson. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has targeted the County for potential service eliminations on both the Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines due to severe revenue losses. Such a move would eliminate any rail options and force the county’s commuters to use the Thruway System.
Cornell did express gratitude that the department’s proposal addressed the “issue” of the toll structure for trucks; currently, the Cuomo Bridge charges much less than other crossings for trucks, making the bridge a magnet for larger vehicles and increasing traffic. The new proposal would require trucks to “pay their fair share,” according to Cornell, who also thanked the department for implementing the switch to cashless tolls and eliminating unnecessary congestion on the bridge. Overall, however, Cornell echoed her constituents by voicing a general frustration with Rockland’s transportation situation.
“Some years ago, I coined the phrase, “Transportation Orphan.”
Rockland County is that orphan – located on the West Side of the Hudson River, but not belonging to New Jersey – forgotten and ignored by the State of New York with regard to transit.
Despite the formation of various committees and endless meetings over the past many years today, Rockland County remains a place ignored by New York State when it comes to transit. Rockland County residents remain without reliable options for getting into New York City without crossing a bridge by car or bus to catch a train.
I respectfully urge you to consider the needs of the hardworking men and women of Rockland County left with no other option than to use the Thruway and Cuomo bridge.