In some ways, we have been down this road before. Buffalo's Early News and WBEN.com take a look at the range of plans and what each one would mean in different ways in different areas.
Rather than engage in costly relocation, or legal battles, Congressman Brian Higgins on Tuesday proposed having NYS just not collect any tolls on those going only between the Williamsville Toll Barrier and Transit Road.
"The New York State Thruway Authority made decisions a long time ago to put tolls in various sections of the Thruway to generate revenue" Higgins said. "The justification at that time was that we would do that to finance the improvements that needed to be made."
But Higgins says that the Thruway Authority is already collecting enough money in gasoline taxes, and the 15 cent toll has become an inconvenience for too many people.
While many people in the last decade have called for moving the toll barrier, Higgins says he has another idea. "They're not going to pursue the relocation of the toll barrier, so what we're simply asking them to do is to do something on behalf of the commuting public of Western New York, and that is to create a 'Toll Free Zone' between Transit Road and Williamsville, between exits 49 and 50, for commuters here."
His plan would mean that commuters traveling just between exits 49 and 50 would do so for free, instead of being charged to 15 cents that they are currently.
Higgins said a move like this would not be unprecedented. Vehicles in the Albany area which use exit 25A and 24, 25, or 26, are not assessed a toll for their small distance traveled.
He also argues that eliminating the 15 cent toll would help surrounding communities, notably Main Street in Williamsville, become a more walkable community. Higgins says that the Village of Williamsville is trying to create a pedestrian friendly area along Main Street, and the 15 cent toll is putting a knot in those plans.
"Because of trying to avoid the tolls," Higgins said, "There's increased traffic on Main Street in Williamsville, so the elimination of the toll will clear that up as well."
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: At Facebook.com/WBEN930
Or At The Bottom of this Page
Michael Powers, the attorney hired by Carl Paladino to fight toll collection at the Breckenridge and Ogden toll barriers on the Niagara section of the Thruway says he has been contacted to engage in another fight: taking down the Williamsville Toll barrier.
"The toll barrier should definitely not be there for a variety of reasons," Powers says, adding that a fight over the Williamsville barrier- or tolls elsewhere- will be harder than his successful 2007 battle to have the others taken away.
" They are different animals. there was a specific statutes that I found that related specifically to the Ogden and Breckenridge tolls and that's how we were able to bring those down."
In 2007, at Paladino's urging, Powers, a partner at Phillips Lytle LLP in Buffalo, found a law that said the Niagara Section tolls had to be removed once the bonds on that section of the Thruway were paid off. Those bonds were paid in the 1990s, he says.
"I'm not aware of a similar law, but we are going to look," he says, adding that there are other arguments to make against the tolls.
"There is always the disparity issue, that there is a burden being placed on certain municipalities and not others. Is there a rational reason to have toll booths where they are? There are environmental issues that have been overlooked or neglected. Those are the kinds of issues we have to look at," he says.
Hear More with Powers
On The WBEN Liveline:
"The concerns I have with a multitude of proposals that continue to come forward dealing with the toll barriers is we run the risk of absolutely nothing being done,"
- Amherst Town Board Member Guy Marlette
After years of fighting to try and move the Thruway toll barriers beyond the immediate Buffalo commute, Amherst Town Board member Guy Marlette (L) is skeptical of the latest plan to just not charge local commuters. (See above left)
"I think that the toll booth operates inefficiently now," Marlette says." And the long backups that you encounter as you are going onto that barrier are one of the reasons why people initially try to avoid it."
He says any solution must take a broad approach and include an accounting of the traffic on Main Street in Williamsville, which he thinks many could be using as an alternative to the Thruway, as a way to cut around the tolls.
"I think we need to understand if all the traffic on Main Street is truly just a result of the toll barrier or if there are other issues that have created traffic on Main Street.," Marlette says.
"I think a redesign or moving it is an obvious solution," Marlette says
Marlette also advocates a system that would move traffic faster with more use of the automated EZ-Pass system, and he advocates a re-design of any relocated barrier so as not to just transfer Williamsville's problems to Clarence or Pembroke.