Tolls finally removed from Thruway in Buffalo, NY

| 10/31/2006

Truckers and four-wheelers alike were honking their horns Monday on the New York State Thruway near Buffalo, celebrating the closure of the two toll booths that had made Buffalo the only big city in the state that you had to pay to get into.

The tolls at the Breckenridge and Ogden toll barriers on Interstate 190 dropped from 75 cents to nothing after Republicans in the state Senate approved last week the use of $14 million to make up for the booths' lost revenues. The tolls were expected to take up to two weeks to be removed, but came down about a week early.

The money will come from a larger pork-barrel fund that is allocated into the state's budget each year, the Buffalo 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