What could it actually mean to have no Thruway tolls in Syracuse

Local News

Those who were excited for a possibly free Thruway in Onondaga County might have to wait a while.

It’s been more than a month since both the State Senate and Assembly passed legislation eliminating tolls for Syracuse-area commuters, but the bill hasn’t yet been sent to the Governor’s desk.

But making a free Thruway from Exit 34a west to Exit 39 in Baldwinsville might not be as easy to make happen as some would think.

As Onondaga County Executive and Chair of the New York State Thruway Authority, Joanie Mahoney is paying close attention to the possibility of a free Thruway through Syracuse, but she says it’s complicated.

“There are a lot of good reasons to do it and, then on the flip side, there’s the cost,” Mahoney said.

It costs 65 cents to get from Exits 34-a to 39. Without those tolls, the Thruway authority would need to make up $1.2 million.

“It’s not as simple as do away with the tolls and Thruway will be exactly the way it is now. The tolls pay for the condition, the maintenance, the rest areas if you do away with those, it will affect those things,” Mahoney said.

Supporters point to free sections of the Thruway in Buffalo and Albany, but that’s where it gets complicated— the state isn’t allowed to charge tolls in those specific areas, because they were built with federal funds, part of the Federal Highway System. The section through Syracuse is not.

“In the grand scheme of things, a million dollars is probably not what’s driving this decision. It’s probably more about the precedent that’s set. How we would fit into the Federal Highway Program,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney fears the thruway will no longer be the thruway as we know it.

“You look at the condition of the road and compare it to 81 and 690, there is a premium that’s paid to keep it at that level.”

Mahoney said another complication would be undoing deals with bond holders, who upfront the money to maintain the Thruway with the promise that tolls are collected as pay-back.

She says those can be un-done, but it’s one more thing that’s extending the debate.

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