Court rules against NY using tolls for canals

A federal judge this week ruled New York Thruway tolls are for maintaining the highway and cannot be used to subsidize the state canal system.

Late Wednesday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan affirmed the American Trucking Associations’ contention that the 9 to 14 percent of Thruway tolls allocated annually to the New York State Canal System is unconstitutional. The association, along with three trucking companies, seek refunds for interstate truckers who drove the Thruway since Nov. 14, 2010, three years before the lawsuit was filed.

Ironically, canal system had not received toll revenue since April 1, when the state transferred operation of the canals from the Thruway to the state power authority. A provision in the current state budget mandated that change. The 524-mile NY exceeds the Thruway in length and includes bicycle and hiking trails, as well as museums and barges.

Judge Colleen McMahon wrote that the canals have received more than $1 billion in Thruway tolls over the past two decades. However, revenue from canal users averages well under 1 percent of the cost of maintaining and operating the system, she added.

ATA President and CEO Chris Spear echoed McMahon’s statement that canal upkeep should not be carrroed by Thruway users engaged in interstate commerce. “We hope today’s ruling will not only end this practice in New York, but dissuade other states from financing their budget shortfalls on the backs of our industry,” Spear said.