FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 4, 2023
Click here for the full report and a news conference recording.
NEW YORK THRUWAY SYSTEM PROVIDES MOBILITY, CONNECTIVITY & ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY, BUT THRUWAY’S $1.2 BILLION FUNDING BACKLOG AND INCREASING DEBT PAYMENTS PROJECTED TO LEAD TO DETERIORATED PAVEMENT & BRIDGE CONDITIONS
Albany, NY – Since it opened 68 years ago, New York’s 570-mile Thruway System has functioned as the Empire State’s Main Street, connecting the state’s largest urban areas and providing a vital link from New York to the rest of the nation and beyond. But as vehicle travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, the Thruway System faces a funding gap of $1.2 billion through 2031 to maintain its high levels of safety and service, maintain good infrastructure conditions, support operations, and maintain debt service coverage at appropriate levels. This is according to a new white paper from TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit based in Washington, DC, which looks at the condition, reliability, safety and funding needs of the New York State Thruway.
The TRIP report, “The New York Thruway: The Empire State’s Main Street,” finds that from 2012 to 2019, the number of annual trips on the New York Thruway increased by eight percent before dropping 19 percent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2021, Thruway vehicle travel had returned to near pre-pandemic levels and is projected to increase by nine percent from 2022 to 2031. In 2021, passenger vehicles made up 83 percent of Thruway travel, while large trucks and other commercial vehicles were 17 percent of Thruway travel.
New York’s Thruway system is funded from tolls and payments received from concessionaires at the Thruway’s 27 service areas’ restaurant and gasoline stations. A 2022 report prepared for the New York State Thruway Authority by Stantec Consulting Services found that annual revenue from tolls on the Thruway increased 16 percent from 2012 to 2019, from $638 million to $740 million. Toll revenues decreased 17 percent from 2019 to 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic before rebounding to $760 million in 2021. Thruway toll revenues in 2022 are expected to total $811 million. From 2022 to 2031, New York Thruway toll revenue is expected to increase by seven percent, reaching $867 million, with the number of New York Thruway trips anticipated to increase by nine percent. Overall, New York Thruway toll revenue is projected to increase by 36 percent from 2012 to 2031.
Due to additional investment in system rehabilitation coupled with an increased reliance on borrowing, New York Thruway’s annual debt service payments increased by 69 percent from 2012 to 2021, from $200 million to $340 million. From 2022 to 2032, annual debt service is anticipated to increase by 78 percent, from $306 million to $543 million. Overall, from 2012 to 2031, the Thruway’s annual debt service is projected to increase by a total of 171 percent.
Annual investment in highway and bridge rehabilitation on the New York Thruway dropped from $322 million in 2012 to $236 million in 2022 – a 37 percent decrease. And, while annual investment in highway and bridge rehabilitation on the New York Thruway is expected to increase 24 percent from 2022 to 2031, reaching $294 million, this is still nine percent below the level in 2012.
Projected Thruway revenues through 2031 are not anticipated to be sufficient to meet the systems’ rehabilitation needs. Through 2031 the Thruway Authority has a $1.2 billion funding gap in revenue needed to maintain its high levels of safety and service, maintain good infrastructure conditions, support Thruway operations, and maintain debt service coverage at appropriate levels. Current toll rates per mile on the New York Thruway System, and rates proposed for 2024, are well below rates on most similar toll facilities in the northeastern U.S.
“It’s beneficial for a group like TRIP to make a data-based assessment of New York’s most important roadway,” Michael Fleischer, former NYS Thruway Authority executive director and currently a senior advisor with Brown & Weinraub. “This review shows that the system is amongst the safest highways in the nation, but it requires continued and increased investments so it can continue to best serve its customers. The Thruway’s proposed targeted toll adjustments clearly are critical and necessary to its ability to maintain and preserve this critical asset.”
Significant increases in the cost of highway and bridge improvements could threaten the ability of the Thruway Authority to improve the condition, safety and reliability of the Thruway. The Federal Highway Administration’s national highway construction cost index, which measures labor and materials cost, increased by 50 percent during the 21 months from the start of the first quarter in January 2021 to the end of the third quarter in September 2022.
Pavement conditions on the New York Thruway improved 11 percent from 2017 to 2020, as measured by the Average Lane Distress Index, which increased from a rating of 64 to 71 during that time and indicates pavements in fair condition. However, following these improvements, pavement conditions declined in 2020 and 2021, returning to 2017 levels. Based on projected funding levels for highway rehabilitation, the Thruway’s average pavement conditions are anticipated to decline by 31 percent from 2022 to 2028, from a rating of 64 to 44, declining into poor condition.
A 2021 analysis of ride quality on the New York Thruway found that 69 percent of the system is rated good, 20 percent is rated fair, 10 percent is rated mediocre and one percent is rated poor. But a 2022 assessment of surface distress on the Thruway, including cracking, rutting and shoulder defects, found that 48 percent of the system is in poor condition, 26 percent is in fair condition and 26 percent is in good condition. This assessment is conducted annually to help forecast future paving needs and locations.
One percent (10 of 816) of the Thruway’s bridges are rated in poor condition. A bridge is rated in poor condition if there is significant deterioration of the bridge deck, supports or other major components. Twelve percent (100 of 816) of the New York Thruway’s bridges have been rated in fair condition. A fair rating indicates that a bridge’s structural elements are sound but minor deterioration has occurred to the bridge’s deck, substructure or superstructure. The remaining 87 percent of Thruway bridges are rated in good condition.
Average bridge condition ratings on the Thruway improved by two percent from 2015 to 2020, before eroding from 2020 to 2022 by one percent. Based on anticipated funding levels for bridge rehabilitation, the Thruway’s average bridge rating is projected to decline by two percent between 2022 and 2027.
Highway safety features on the New York Thruway, traveler information and effective policing have contributed to a very low traffic fatality rate on the system. In 2021 the Thruway-wide fatality rate was 0.21 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, much lower than the nationwide traffic fatality rate of 1.35 and the New York State traffic fatality rate of 1.00.
“The New York Thruway System is critical to the quality of life of New Yorkers and the health of the state’s economy, allowing New York to maintain a reliable supply network, providing regional connectivity and allowing for personal mobility,” said Dave Kearby, TRIP’s executive director. “Ensuring that the extensive and aging New York Thruway System continues to provide reliable and safe access will require that an adequate level of investment is made in the system to improve its condition, safety and efficiency.”