Last Thursday a coalition of State Assembly members, CSEA officials, members of the Dutchess County Chamber of Commerce, Lloyd Councilmen, Ulster County Legislators, Bridge Authority board members, led by NYS Assemblyman Jonathan G. Jacobson [D-104], held a press conference at the Mid Hudson Bridge Headquarters to voice their resolute opposition to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to merge the NYS Bridge Authority into the NYS Thruway Authority.
Jacobson’s rallying cry is, “this is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue; this is a Hudson Valley issue.” He contends that this proposal is simply a way to divert toll money to subsidize the new $4 billion Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, formally the native American named Tappan Zee Bridge, that links Rockland and Westchester Counties.
“The proposed plan is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem,” Jacobson said, adding that this is not a partisan issue, “but a common sense issue. This is a group of residents and their local leaders using their common sense and standing up for their local communities.”
Jacobson said this proposed merger would hurt the economy and overall quality of life in the Mid-Hudson region. He said if this goes through, he expects the Thruway Authority would raise tolls on the Bridge Authority bridges, “while simultaneously allowing their condition to deteriorate.”
Jacobson said since the founding of the Bridge Authority in 1932, by then Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, their mission has been to, “maintain and operate the safe vehicle crossings over the Hudson River and entrusted to their jurisdiction the economic and social benefit for the people of the state of New York. They have successfully carried out that mission for 88 years and continue to do so.”
Jacobson said the Governor believes the merger would create opportunity and more efficiencies but Jacobson pointed out that the Bridge Authority is already well known for their efficient operation and scrupulous maintenance of their bridges and have tolls that are the lowest in the state and possibly in the nation.
The Bridge Authority operates the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, the Mid-Hudson Bridge, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge the Bear Mountain Bridge and includes the Walkway Over the Hudson.
“These bridges constitute a vital link between municipalities on both sides of the Hudson River or for the residents to have a reliable way to get to work, shop, attend school, visit doctors and hospitals or other services across the river from their homes. They are indeed our main streets,” he said.
Jacobson said if this merger happens residents in our area should expect to see a significant increase in the tolls at all of the upper Hudson bridges.
“In brief, the proposed new administrative structure would negatively impact Mid-Hudson residents and is simply unnecessary, ill-advised and unfair. It is also just plain wrong, wrong for the bridges, wrong for the community and wrong for the residents of the Hudson Valley,” he said.
NY Assemblywoman Sandy Galef [D-95] represents an area that includes the Bear Mountain Bridge.
“That bridge really connects a lot of my constituents to hospitals, doctors, recreation, the Bear Mountain Parkway, and high school students between the Highlands and Garrison,” she said. “There is no reason for the Thruway Authority to take over the Bridge Authority; it’s just a bad proposal. I’m for change but this is a crazy, crazy change and so we need to fight it at all avenues.”
Anthony Adamo, President of Civil Service Employees Association [CSEA] for the Southern Region 3, contends that if the tolls on the bridges in our region were increased the populations of the local communities would “shrink.”
Adamo praised the “mighty workforce” that maintain the bridges in the region.
“Our safety ratings on these five bridges are higher than on any other safety ratings for bridges that age in the nation,” he said. “I am standing firmly with this and the membership of the CSEA is standing firm with this; we do not believe the Bridge Authority needs to consolidate with the Thruway...Make no mistake we’re going to keep the Bridge Authority just what it is, the Bridge Authority.”
NYS Senator Sue Serino [R-41] said she typically favors consolidations, “if it means it is in the best interest of our communities and saves the state money. However, our communities have always been wary of mega-authorities because of our experience with the MTA, a situation where our community is barely given a voice and where our residents are treated as nothing more than a piggy bank and an afterthought.”
Serino said the proposal also would only give all 8 Mid Hudson Valley counties one representative on the Thruway board, which is not that dissimilar from the arrangement with the MTA. She noted that she has not received answers on how much money, if any, this consolidation will actually save New Yorkers, “nor have I gotten a guarantee that the tolls on our local bridges won’t rise or that tolls paid on our bridges would someday be used to subsidize the Thruway Authority or that our local jobs that our residents depend on would be preserved. Without these kind of guarantees, we don’t know what the future would hold for our local drivers and bridge authority employees.”
Richard Gerentine, Chairman of the NYS Bridge Authority Board, said Albany, to date, has not informed his board on what savings and efficiencies would accrue by consolidating these two agencies.
Gerentine said the Bridge Authority has approximately $53 million in a reserve fund that is used for maintenance and operations. He fears that if they are taken over by the Thruway Authority, “I imagine they will take that money and utilize it any way possible.”
Gerentine said the Bridge Authority should receive answers to these basic questions and urged that this agency remain solely the New York State Bridge Authority.
Jacobson closed by thanking everyone for coming out to the press conference.
“I think that you can see we’re united in this and with everybody’s help, including the Governor and the Legislature and the local residents, we will be successful. It won’t be easy but I think we can do it,” he said.