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Truckers relieved over toll savings

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Trucking companies that were bracing themselves for a rough year in 2013 breathed a sigh of relief last week, as the state Thruway Authority scrapped a planned 45 percent toll increase for large commercial vehicles.

For carriers in the north country like Northern Logistics Inc., 23791 Route 342, that means harnessing thousands of dollars they thought would be channeled to toll costs. After the authority approved the toll hike in May, it received immense pressure from business and advocacy groups, underscoring how the policy would force carriers to increase costs to their customers.

“Costs keep going up and up, and carriers have to keep passing them on to the consumer,” said William P. Wilcox, who has co-owned Northern Logistics with his wife, Kristin A., since 1978.

The carrier has seven trucks that transport freight across the Northeast, Mr. Wilcox said, and makes frequent trips each week using the Thruway. The carrier spent $15,000 in fuel costs last year, he said, but would have tacked on at least $7,000 to that if the toll increase had taken effect.

From Syracuse, Mr. Wilcox said, the trip to the western state line is about 200 miles; the drive east on the Thruway from Syracuse to Massachusetts is about 150 miles.

“We use the Thruway when we’re going east and west,” he said. If the toll had taken effect, “the trip from Syracuse to Buffalo would have increased from $50 to $75. That’s a big cost, and if you take a load and come back it becomes $50. If the trip is made twice a week, it’s $100.”

“You would have to add a little to the freight cost to cover the tolls,” he said. “And if you’re the customer paying $25 more, you turn around and add those costs to products bought by consumers. It affects everyone.”

Another carrier from Watertown, Teal’s Express Inc., 224411 Teal Drive, previously told the Times its Thruway costs would have climbed $100,000 or more annually if the toll hike had been approved. The carrier does most of its business out of state and has 11 distribution centers across the Northeast.

The economic ripple effect that would result is an extra burden for businesses and consumers that was highlighted by the New York State Motor Truck Association. President Kendra L. Hems said carriers across the state would have had dents in their operating budget ranging from a couple thousand to tens of thousands of dollars a month if the toll increase had been approved.

“The industry would have had to find ways to limit that increase in their tolls,” Mrs. Hems said, “and one of the first ways would have been to pass the costs on. That’s why the business community was so outraged because they knew the trickle down would have affected businesses.”

Moreover, Mrs. Hems said, the toll increase would have made it more challenging for truckers to do business in a state that has the most industry regulations in the Northeast.

“Some companies told us they would have chosen to close their doors if this was approved, and there are those that would have moved out of state,” she said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration said Monday no toll increase is expected to be approved by the authority in the next three years. The authority avoided the toll hike by chopping hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses and transferring costs to the state budget.

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