Things to Ask the New York State Thruway Authority (Update: Ray Walter Asked Some)

31 Jan

(Assemblyman Ray Walter posted this to Facebook on Thursday…

Transportation Budget Hearing today. Tweet or FB me your questions for DOT and Thruway and I’ll try to get them in.#Budget2014

…Here are the questions I “Facebooked”): 

1. Why do we need a Thruway Authority? In other words, why can’t the State DOT assume the duty to maintain the roads over which the Thruway has jurisdiction? 

2. Assuming there is a satisfactory answer to #1, why can’t the Thruway Authority automate toll collection? This would save money for the Authority, and lost productivity and time for motorists. 

3. How much does the Thruway Authority cost to operate every year as a separate entity, and how much of that is paid through tolls? 

4. Similar to #2, but even if not fully automated, what reason exists to employ actual human beings to act as a middleman between a ticket dispensing machine and a motorist? Is there some magical forcefield that prevents motorists from taking a ticket themselves? 

5. The toll barriers in Williamsville, Lackawanna, and at the PA border are inadequate for the amount of traffic they get during peak times in the summer. Will the TA institute a process to let motorists through toll-free during bad back-ups to alleviate traffic, and to prevent the poisoning of the air for nearby residents? 

6. The TA operates the I-190, which handles most Canadian traffic. Why are the only tourism offices located at the Angola and Clarence plazas? Why is there no rest area / tourism office serving Canadians arriving on the Q-L, Rainbow, and Peace Bridges to spend money in WNY? 

7. Also related to #2, EZ-Pass has the capability to collect tolls while traffic moves at highway speeds. Why is there no “EZ-Pass only” lane that lets vehicles go by at highway speeds at the major barriers in WNY? 

8. It is my understanding that the tolls at Williamsville cannot be expanded due to lack of space. There has been a big push by certain towns (especially Vill of W’Ville) to move the barrier (if one needs to exist) back to somewhere between Clarence and the Pembroke exit. Why hasn’t this happened? What is the hold-up? 

9. EZ-Pass transponders are operating throughout Manhattan. Why?

10. Is there any other system that might be implemented for the collection of tolls on the NYS Thruway that the TA has looked into? For instance, payment by mobile phone, payment of an annual, daily, or weekly pass to use the road, etc? 

11. Will the TA raise the speed limit on the Thruway in rural areas between Albany – PA Line to 75 MPH? 

12. The numbering scheme for exits on the Thruway is counterintuitive – many exits have been added and instead of re-numbering the system to accommodate them, the TA has just slapped an “A” at the end of the exit. Other states have implemented a system whereby the exit numbers correspond with the mile markers. When I wrote to the TA 10 yrs ago about this, they claimed that they couldn’t make this change because the road actually follows the I-87 and then the I-90, but this makes no sense. After all, the exit numbering scheme sequential along these two roadways, and the mile markers begin at 0 at the Deegan/Yonkers line and ascend along the I-87, continuing to the I-90. The Transit Road exit in Depew should be 415. 

That’s all I’ve got for now.

UPDATE: Assemblyman Walter got to ask some of them. Here’s what the Thruway guy said:

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43 Responses to “Things to Ask the New York State Thruway Authority (Update: Ray Walter Asked Some)”

  1. UncleBluck January 31, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    Answer to most of those questions is that “authorities” are dumping grounds for nepotism. The rich guy who donated to the corrupt politicians election campaign needs a job for his underachieving relative or the politician himself wants to help out a relative (Ie see Erie county executive’s brother the chef)…….

  2. James Hyzy January 31, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Excellent questions, many of which cross my mind daily as I travel along the I-190 from Buffalo to Niagara Falls and back. I would ask is why there aren’t EZ Pass lanes for automobiles only…? Truck traffic regularly disrupts the traffic flow, especially at the two 5 MPH EZ Pass lanes at the south GI Bridge. Of course, this would be irrelevant if they would accept tolls at highway speeds…

    I would also ask them to create a new exit off the I-190 at Lockport Road (between Porter-Packard and Witmer Roads). This would alleviate some of the major congestion at Porter-Packard that is created by people entering/exiting there for the outlet mall and Niagara Falls High School.

    • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 9:53 am #

      Absolutely to part one of your comment. The busy Thruway barriers (Williamsville, Lackawanna, PA Line) should be trucks to the right, cars to the left.

  3. Hank Kaczmarek January 31, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    One of the steps to a better NYS would be to dismantle the ENTIRE Authority system. The Thruway Authority is kind of the open, oozing sore on the system that everyone gets to deal with. Since folks from other states (like NC) that have no need of an EZ Pass as there are almost no toll roads, total automation of the Toll Collection may not be possible. But to Pay someone and give them the hefty State benefits package to hand out tickets at the State Lines and entrance ramps along the road has never made sense. And there really is no reason, since it appears that thruway tolls will be a permanent NYS cash cow, to not move the Williamsville toll plaza back east away from the town. The Lackawanna toll could be moved back some as well. The backups on the Grand Island Bridges in the summertime are ridiculous, and even if the tolls on the main line have to be increased, that bottleneck REALLY needs to go.

    • Kittie1010 January 31, 2014 at 11:46 am #

      Most toll collectors are part time and considered “temporary.” This means that they do not collect state benefits, such as health insurance. They do not have sick time, personal time, or vacation time. They’re don’t even make the same per hour wage as a full time collector. The Thruway is continually trying to rid itself of full time collectors so that they do not have to pay out these “hefty” benefits as you phrased it.

      • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

        Like “footman”, “armor repairman”, and “horse-drawn buggy driver”, “toll taker” is a job whose time has come and gone.

      • Kittie1010 January 31, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

        The same argument could be made about cashiers due to the fact that
        there are self check out lanes available. The fact of the matter is that
        those jobs are not being eliminated because problems still come up. Toll collectors do more then hand out tickets and collect money. They provide directions and direct patrons to local businesses. They ensure that the proper authorities are informed of unsafe driving conditions and unsafe vehicles. They provide patrons with a means to report broken down or abandoned vehicles. They have helped locate missing vehicles and the people who were in them. They do hourly roll call to report on weather conditions and temperature so that the road conditions can be better maintained in the winter.

      • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

        I’m going to take a wild guess and say that either you or someone close to you works as a ticket taker for the Thruway, because these are the same arguments I see time and time again for people advocating to maintain the medieval status quo.

        Somehow miraculously people are able to negotiate roads such as the 407 in Ontario without needing to retain actual human beings to provide “directions”. I have been a motorist for almost 30 years, and I’ve stopped at more toll plazas than I care to remember, and never, not once, have I ever asked a toll taker for anything whatsoever. All of your arguments would take away the need for the old pre-EZ-Pass change baskets, too. We have automated cameras that can immediately broadcast road conditions throughout the Thruway. Most people have cell phones now to deal with breakdowns and abandonments, and I’m guessing only a very small percentage of those are ever within eyesight of a toll barrier. I’m sure the toll takers have done a lot of good over the years, but given where technology is now, we don’t need them anymore.

        Also, I just spent my lunch hour at the Apple Store getting some batteries replaced. I needed a new iPhone case. I used the Apple Store app to scan and pay for my purchase without asking for anyone’s help. I also didn’t need directions because I can read a map.

      • Kittie1010 January 31, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

        Well you are a lot more efficient then a lot of people I have encountered. You would be surprised at the amount of people I have encountered who have absolutely no idea where they are going. In regards to breakdowns, toll collectors are alerted by passerbys. Even people with ezpass will come through a manned lane to report an accident or broken down vehicle so that Troopers can be notified. And yes, I use to work for the Thruway.

      • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

        How do these poor souls manage to find their way along non-toll roads?

      • Ridgewaycynic2013 January 31, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

        Are you sure there won’t be ‘footmen’ tonight at Salvatore’s?

  4. Michael Rebmann January 31, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    13. Has the State looked into the economic benefit from turning the operation of the Thruway over to a private entity? That would probably take care of the first 12 questions.

    • Kittie1010 January 31, 2014 at 11:39 am #

      The Thruway Authority is considered a private entity in that it does not receive funding from the State. It is completely funded from the collection of tolls.

      • Michael Rebmann January 31, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

        It is a Public Authority and has received federal grants and funding from the D.O.T. and M.T.A.

      • Kittie1010 January 31, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

        Any business can receive grants.

      • Michael Rebmann January 31, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

        I was merely disproving your original statement – “It is completely funded from the collection of tolls.”

      • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

        It even gets to incur debt that doesn’t show up on the state balance sheet, and is completely opaque and unresponsive in its management.

      • Michael Rebmann January 31, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

        I believe the issuance of debt, that doesn’t reflect on the State, was the prime reason for creating Public Authorities.

    • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 11:44 am #

      Why would that be a good idea? The 407 might have an advanced toll-reading system, but the actual tolls are downright confiscatory.

      • Michael Rebmann January 31, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

        I am not familiar with the details of the Canadian highway you are citing, other than the company has a 99 year lease. In Europe, Asia, and other places, private highways are becoming quite common, more cost efficient and better traffic flow. Approximately 70% of France’s highways are operated by private entities.

        You’ve already made the case for the Thruway Authority not working. It’s time to shift gears.

      • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

        They may be operated by private entities, but they remain publicly owned roads. But there’s no proof that private toll collection is better than public toll collection, writ large.

      • jimd54 January 31, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

        Indiana’s toll road was privatized many years ago. In my experience the road conditions are no better and maybe worse and the tolls are extremely high. It costs us just under 30 bucks to go here to Chicago, under $5 going through Canada.

      • jimd54 January 31, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

        Also the parking ramps and meters in Chicago have been privatized and they have become a huge piss-me-off with the residents and businesses there.

      • hwhamlin January 31, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

        A friend of mine who is a traffic engineer in ONT says the private nature of 407 also explains why it chooses to charge you extra for reading your license plate, and why it won’t accept an EZ-Pass tag, as opposed to its own proprietary tag.

      • Ridgewaycynic2013 January 31, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

        If you don’t have a transponder, and have to exit and then reenter the 407, you’ll pay the video toll charge twice, which is currently $3.95 Cdn. Make sure bowels and bladder are quiescent before entering the road. There’s more ‘hidden’ fees on that road than in some new car invoices.

        http://www.407etr.com/tolls/rate-chart-complete-2014.html

    • Ridgewaycynic2013 January 31, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

      As Alan points out, the devil is in the details. The Spaniards who have control of Ontario’s 407 have no interference over however much they wish to gouge the public.

  5. Kittie1010 January 31, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    Does no one realize that the Thruway is completely funded by the the tolls they collect? They also pay to maintain the NYS Canals System. NYS can barely pay the DOT to maintain it’s other roads, so how would the DOT be able to maintain these two systems as well? I for one do not want the Thruway dismantled. If I don’t want to pay the toll, I don’t take the road. I don’t want my taxes to go up so that everyone can travel the 90 for “free.”

    • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

      Can you cite to the specific rule, law, or regulation that prohibits the DOT from collecting tolls?

      • Kittie1010 January 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

        What would be the difference from the Thruway if the DOT collected tolls?

      • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

        The DOT is controlled by the government and not by some opaque authority. It, therefore, has an indirect responsibility to the voters via the elected officials who appoint people to run it. The Authority has no similar oversight or responsibility. Perhaps if the DOT ran the roadway, it might be quicker and more responsive in modernizing its toll-taking technology, rather than having it mired in something downright medieval.

      • hwhamlin January 31, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

        The big problem is the ability of public authorities to issue debt bonds. Which is why the NYSTA exists – as a convenient debt machine – and why DOT doesn’t run the Thruway.

  6. Chris January 31, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    It is time to give up the idea of rebuilding an antiquated toll plaza somewhere else and embrace fully automated highway speed toll collection as the wave of the future. In the meantime, the changes planned for this year will reduce congestion thereby reducing wait times. The issue of reducing or eliminating the toll between Transit Road and Williamsville remains an issue! It is an unacceptable commuter tax. Here’s the problem, the NYSTA can not compromise their revenue, which is the backing for their bonds, so before a fully automated highway speed system can be implemented, the State needs to give the Thruway Authority a way to collect tolls from those that do not have ez-pass. The Governor’s budget has legislation to do this. I hope the legislature will help the NYSTA collect! It is time to stop talking and fix this problem for good! Chris Duquin – Trustee, Village of Williamsville

  7. James Hyzy January 31, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    From the video…rather than drop the whopping fifteen cent toll between exits 49 and 50, they’re going to offer a “commuter discount” – how magnanimous of them.

  8. hwhamlin January 31, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    #5: A few years ago, after a bad snowstorm, the PA Pike was toll-free until the road could be de-iced and cleared of abandoned vehicles. NYS, whose prime directive is to collect and spend as much money as possible, would never tolerate such a sign of weakness.
    #7: The human ticket dispensers will never condone highway-speed EZ-Pass lanes in places where they have to cross the lane to get to their booths. You’ll notice that even the plazas with 20-mph lanes locate them at the end of the plaza farthest from the office. In fact, they aren’t too fond of EZ-Pass itself, for obvious reasons.

    • Kittie1010 January 31, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

      The fact that high speed lanes are at the end is a matter of safety. Not because it’s not condoned by the “human ticket dispensers.” Do you want to cross a lane with cars driving highway speeds going through?

      • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

        There is a way to separate cash lanes from highway speed lanes. They do it in many other states, and also on the Thruway at Harriman.

      • Kittie1010 January 31, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

        Higher speed lanes are at the end furthest from the building. However, not everyone follows that rule. People fly through maned lanes all the time putting people’s lives at risk. No one bothers to look at the signs that state the speed limits.

      • Alan Bedenko January 31, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

        Maybe we don’t really need manned lanes at all, or if we do, they should be located off the main roadway, like a weigh station. That’s how they do it in Florida.

      • Jaquandor (Kelly Sedinger) January 31, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

        Manned lanes exist in New Jersey as well; they are well off the side, as you note, like a weigh station. To pay a human you MUST slow down and literally exit the highway (albeit briefly). Their EZPass lanes are full-speed. I’d never seen such a thing until we went there last summer for vacation, and I found it amazing. And of course, my immediate thought was, “Why the hell are we still doing it like it’s 1965?!”

      • hwhamlin January 31, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

        See points 2 & 4 above. There is no reason to have tickets dispensed by humans, and thus no reason to have humans cross the EZ-Pass lanes. And, by the way, there are no “high speed lanes”. That’s the beef.

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