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S&P Downgrades NY Thruway, Warns Of Higher Tolls

New York State Thruway Toll Plaza at Tappan Zee Bridge (file / credit: Google Maps)

New York State Thruway Toll Plaza at Tappan Zee Bridge (file/credit: Google Maps)

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) - A major financial rating agency downgraded the New York State Thruway on Tuesday to a negative financial outlook and warned travelers of higher tolls ahead.

WCBS 880′s Sean Adams On The Story

Standard & Poor’s said it has reduced its outlook on bonds to finance the state Thruway Authority to negative from stable. The ratings agency also said “aggressive” toll increases may be needed and it raised concern about the cost of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.

“I think the state’s going to have to look to other ways of financing.  I’m very concerned that we’ve been cutting taxes for people at the top end,” Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, whose district includes Tarrytown, told WCBS 880′s Sean Adams.

But the agency affirmed its “A-plus” long-term rating on the Thruway Authority’s general revenue bonds. The continued rating reflects the Thruway’s essential role as a 500-mile route from New York City to Buffalo and Pennsylvania, as well as a lack of a feasible alternative for trucks and cars.

In May, the Thruway Authority blamed past administrations for fiscal problems during the recession that sparked a proposed “modest” increase of 45 percent for three-axle trucks and larger trucks.

The ratings report opened the door for further toll increases that could hit automobile drivers when it noted the increase would be used for maintenance, not for Cuomo’s plan to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. The cost of a toll for a car from New York City to Buffalo is about $20.

“The negative outlook reflects our concern that the timing and magnitude of revenue enhancement and operational streamlining initiatives might not be enough to offset (the Thruway Authority’s) significant additional debt needs,” Standard and Poor’s stated.

If the authority adopts an “aggressive tolling regime” that accounts for the Tappan Zee Bridge repair costs and other capital spending, the outlook could be upgraded to stable within two years, the report said.

The $5.2 billion project would build two spans to replace an aging, overcrowded bridge across the Hudson River in New York City’s northern suburbs. The bridge carries Interstate 287 over the river between Rockland and Westchester counties.

The Obama administration this spring rejected a $2 billion loan application. But another round of applications is planned.

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