New York State has two big road agencies, the Department of Transportation and the Thruway Authority. There are big differences between an Executive Branch Department and a state Authority, but for the driving public the main difference is that the Thruway is a toll road, whereas state roads are open.
The DOT has responsibility for 15,102 miles of roads and an annual budget of about $4 billion. At $1.1 billion the annual Thruway Authority budget is about a quarter of the size, but it maintains only 570 miles, or about one-thirtieth the roadways. That is a big enough discrepancy to challenge the efficiency of the Thruway.
But wait, there’s more.
The DOT has 8,784 employees, or one for every .58 mile of road. The Thruway Authority has 3,987 employees, or seven for every mile of road.
To hand out toll tickets and collect payment obviously requires manpower, thus accounting for the differential. However, all that manpower requires more health care payments, pension liabilities, and all the other compulsory cost drivers. As a result the Thruway, which is supposed to pay for its own operation, has amassed a debt of nearly $3 billion.
Might it make sense to eliminate the tolls and cede the Thruway to the DOT? For a number of reasons it may not, but if the per mile operating cost of the Thruway mirrored that of the DOT, the $1.1 billion spent on those 570 miles would fall to $151 million – a net savings of $950 million annually.