New York Supreme Court continues court battle over Buffalo toll booths

| 9/5/2006

A battle over tolls in the Buffalo, NY, area will most likely have its day in court, following a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court.

In late August, state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Glownia refused to hear a motion to dismiss the case between the New York State Thruway Authority and a number of Buffalo-area businesspeople. The motion was brought forth by the New York Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the Thruway Authority in the case.

In February, Erie County Executive Joel Giambra and Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino banded together in a lawsuit against the Thruway Authority, alleging that two toll booths on Interstate 190 leading into downtown Buffalo have stunted economic growth in the city.

U.S. Representative Brian Higgins, D-NY, also has promised to introduce a bill in the House that would withhold federal highway funding from the Thruway if the South Ogden and Breckenridge toll booths on I-190 are not taken down.

Higgins, a Buffalo native and member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the tolls force truck traffic and local commuters in the city to pay for all 641 miles of the Thruway’s upkeep.

“We’re basing our request to the New York State Thruway Authority on an issue of fairness and equity,” Higgins told Land Line. “There are 25 highways in upstate New York linking urban and suburban communities with the Thruway, but there’s only one toll road, that being the I-190 running through Buffalo.”

According to Thruway figures, approximately $250 million of the Authority’s $914 million annual budget comes from Federal Highway Administration funds. Roughly $9.6 million of the 641-mile Thruway’s yearly revenue – about 1 percent – comes from the Buffalo toll booths. Approximately $75 million of the Thruway’s budget is used to fund the state’s canal system, including the Erie Canal.

“It’s one thing if the tolls are put in place to finance construction or reconstruction,” Higgins said. “Our argument is the Thruway Authority is receiving a lot of federal highway money to accomplish that. Therefore, the tolls – the toll tax – represent a double tax on commuters from Buffalo and western New York.”

Originally, tolls on the road were to end in 1996, after the original bonds that funded the project were paid off. However, Thruway officials later changed that and said users of the road, not all of the state’s taxpayers, should pay for its upkeep.

– By Aaron Ladage, staff editor