Controversial toll barriers to disappear from NY Thruway

| 10/23/2006

After a hard-fought political and legal battle, a push to have tolls removed from the New York Thruway in downtown Buffalo is about to become a reality - at least for a while.

According to the Buffalo News, the tolls at the Breckenridge and Ogden toll barriers on Interstate 190 will be removed in approximately two weeks, after Republicans in the state Senate approved the use of $14 million to make up for the booths' lost revenues.

The money will come from a larger pork-barrel fund that is allocated into the state's budget each year, the News reported. However, since the allocation of the fund must be decided each year, the permanent removal of the tolls - and the toll booths themselves - is still undecided.

In February, Erie County Executive Joel Giambra and Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino banded together in a lawsuit against the New York State Thruway Authority, alleging that the I-190 toll booths have stunted economic growth in downtown Buffalo. As of press time, there had been no decision in that case.

Then, in July, U.S. Representative Brian Higgins, D-NY, promised to introduce a bill in the House that would withhold federal highway funding from the Thruway Authority if the tolls were not removed.

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.

"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," Higgins told Land Line earlier this summer.

Originally, tolls on all 641 miles of the Thruway 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