Truck traffic geared up to stay at the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge despite toll hikes

Drivers of five axle vehicle trucks pay $32.75 with E-ZPass during peak hours at the Cuomo, compared to $95 at the GWB. The new hikes won't be enough to deter truckers from The Cuomo bridge.

Thomas C. Zambito
Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Don’t expect truck traffic to drop off at the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge once toll hikes kick in over the next few years.

It’s still the best bargain in the region for truckers and beats sitting in traffic at the George Washington Bridge, veteran drivers say.

“It’s all about the money and it’s all about the wear and tear on the vehicle,” said Steve Hawk, a driver for 45 years who now works as a consultant to small trucking companies. “It’s a much smoother ride coming down the Thruway, going across the Cross-Westchester, than it is the GW, Cross-Bronx and 95 North.”

Truck traffic on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge on Monday, February 4, 2019.

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Truck traffic on the Cuomo bridge and its predecessor, the Tappan Zee Bridge, has surged in recent years as the toll — and frustration — divide with the GWB widened.

Drivers of five axle vehicle trucks pay $32.75 with E-ZPass during peak hours at the Cuomo, compared to $95 at the GWB.

That, coupled with one of the nation’s most notorious bottlenecks, has led trucks to rejigger their routes in and out of New York City and points north.

By 2017, truck traffic at the Cuomo jumped to 2.4 million from 1.4 million seven years before. During roughly the same stretch, truck traffic at the GWB slipped from 4.35 million in 2007 to 3.68 million in 2017.

This year, despite a pandemic which shut down New York City for several months, truck traffic on the Cuomo bridge was down just eight percent compared with the first nine months of last year, Thruway figures show. At the end of September, truck traffic on the bridge was at 1.75 million compared to 1.9 million at the same point last year.

Eastbound cars and trucks cross the George Washington Bridge Feb. 14, 2019.

At the GWB, truck traffic was down to 2.72 million at the end of September, compared to 2.76 million at the same point last year, Port Authority figures show.

Passenger traffic at the Cuomo Bridge, meanwhile, was down more than 25 percent at the end of September, from 15 million to 11.1 million.

Next year, the New York State Thruway Authority, which operates the Cuomo, will begin increasing tolls for commercial trucks by 20 percent more than the average increase for passenger vehicles.

The same five-axle truck, the most typical for bridge crossings, will pay $42.90 during peak hours next year and $55.77 in 2022.

But still it won’t be as high as the GW, which raised tolls in January.

“For an owner-operator that’s a lot of money,” said Hawk, the owner of Hawk Freight Services. “If he’s clearing $200 on a load, that $50 is a lot of his profit margin.”

Joe Fitzpatrick agrees. Fitzpatrick is the owner of Lightning Express in Modena in Ulster County. Before the pandemic he was sending 12 trucks into the city every day.

Joe Fitzpatrick, president of Lightning Express Inc. Delivery and Air Freight Service in Modena, New York, is pictured at his warehouse and distribution center, Feb. 7, 2019.

“Everyone’s hurting for money so everyone is going to be raising everything,” Fitzpatrick said. “Will we change our pattern? No. I prefer them to keep using the Tappan Zee. If they really had to, maybe over the Mid-Hudson (Bridge). It depends on where they’re going.”

On Tuesday, the Thruway announced that tolls on its highways would increase by 30 percent for non-E-ZPass users next year.

At the Cuomo, E-ZPass users will pay $5.25 next year and $5.75 in 2022, up from the current $4.75. Westchester and Rockland residents will continue to pay the $4.75 through 2022

Truck traffic across the Thruway has rebounded in recent months thanks, in part, to the popularity of E-commerce, which has more and more people shopping from home. Through the end of September, truck traffic was down 6.2 percent compared to the same point last year, from 22.3 million in 2019 to 21 million this year, Thruway figures show.

Residential runs helped Fitzpatrick stay busy in the months after the state and city were virtually shut down.

“I had three or four trucks doing residential,” he said. “It was the only business I had.”