Tag Archives: grand island tolls

The Jokes Write Themselves

18 Apr

Some people should stick to collecting quarters.

But seriously, threats like these directed at Rus Thompson are astonishing, coming from a guy bitching that he might lose his $21/hr job collecting quarters through a system that should either be (1) abolished; or (2) completely automated, given the fact that it’s 2009 and we’re using medieval technology.

Someone call the whaaaaambulance. Good thing he’s up on charges.

New York State Thruway Closed

22 Dec

The free-to-use roads around town are all open and the main thoroughfares ought to be passable. After all, they didn’t close my work today, so there must be some way to get downtown.

But the Thruway, which charges you through the nose for the privilege of traveling upon it, has closed from exit 46 in Henrietta all the way to the Pennsylvania state line. Why are the free roads open, but the aspensive road is closed?

That’s 132 miles’ worth of toll revenue they’re missing out on!

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Abolish the Thruway Authority

10 Nov

The state DOT, which manages not just highways, but airports, seaports, and some public transportation, has an annual budget of $7.4 billion.

The Thruway Authority, which manages the Thruway and Erie Canal, has an annual budget of over a billion dollars, and a little over half of its money is collected through tolls. I’ve written extensively, critically, and dismissively of the Thruway Authority, and I won’t repeat those here.

The obvious solution is abolition of the bloated, inefficient Thruway Authority. The problem is – if you incorporate it into the State DOT, it will cost money to maintain and service, and the money has to come from somewhere. Most likely, your pocket through gas tax hikes or similar.

But there’s another way.

In the past, I’ve suggested that the Thruway take a hint from Toronto’s 407 and make toll collection something that’s done at highway speeds. But that’s expensive and probably not necessary.

Instead, many European countries share the cost burden of highway maintenance through sales of stickers.

Austria (for vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes), the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Hungary have toll motorways (some motorways, though, are toll-free). Payment in those countries is done in the form of “vignettes”, or stickers being affixed to the car’s front window, which are valid for a certain amount of time. The time is always one calendar year in Switzerland; in Austria and Hungary cheaper vignettes with shorter validity are also available. Slovenia introduced vignettes on July 1, 2008. Due to the fact that the vignette with the shortest time-frame available is valid for 6 months and costs € 35, vignettes have been met with fierce opposition.

Naturally, we could follow the Austrian model where 10 days of travel cost € 7.70 of unlimited travel on that country’s highways. The Swiss system is an annual charge of SFr 40. If caught without a vignette, the Swiss charge you a SFr 100 fine, plus the cost of a vignette. The Austrians are stricter, charging between € 400 and € 4,000 for a missing sticker. Given that it now costs almost $20 to get from the Major Deegan to the PA line, a $10 sticker for 10 days’ worth of highway travel is a bargain.

Vignettes could be sold at welcome centers entering New York or leaving bordering states. They could be sold online, in advance, or, as they are in Hungary, even via cell phone text message:

The point here is that the roads need to be paid for, and it makes sense for the people using them to pay for them. People could avoid buying the stickers by using secondary roads, so it’s completely optional. We could abolish not only the entire Thruway Authority, but most of its associated, dedicated toll-collecting costs. We could get rid of its obnoxious exclusive contracts with towing and wrecker services on the Thruway. But something different should at least be examined.

(Photo of Swiss Vignette by g-trieber @ Flickr.com)

Tolls Up, State Down

26 Apr

Yesterday, the board of the New York State Thruway Authority – a quasi-governmental entity with little or no oversight by politicians over the money it collects and spend – voted to raise tolls 5% next year, and 5% the year after. This follows a 10% hike earlier this year, and is compounded by a diminution in the savings you get by using EZ-Pass.

From the Buffalo News:

The toll increase encountered vehement opposition from freight haulers and commuters during a series of statewide public hearings earlier this year. State Comptroller Thomas P. Di- Napoli issued a report saying the toll hikes were unnecessary. And it prompted Assemblyman Mark J. F. Schroeder, D-Buffalo, to call for abolishment of the Thruway Authority.

About $1 billion of “off-Thruway” costs, such as running the state canal system, and the need to repair much of the road’s half-century- old infrastructure has forced the authority to enact another round of toll hikes, Thruway Authority Executive Director Michael R. Fleischer said Friday.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t so much waste at the Thruway Authority; if it hadn’t been used as a dumping ground for borrowing and spending by the state so that it could be kept off the regular Albany books. It wouldn’t be so bad if so much of the toll revenue didn’t go simply to administering itself. It wouldn’t be so bad if the roadway was actually well-maintained throughout. Have you ever crossed the Pennsylvania border on the I-90? The New York side, for which you pay, is like a washboard. The Pennsylvania side is smooth as silk. And toll-free.

He also said the DiNapoli audit underestimated federal aid by a minimum of $125 million for a five-year budget period, though Fleischer said New York State took no steps to obtain federal aid in its latest budget.

Nevertheless, Schroeder said he has joined State Sen. George D. Maziarz, RNewfane, in sponsoring a bill that would abolish the authority and transfer the Thruway to the state highway system.

“We elect leaders to administer these vital functions of government,” Schroeder said outside his office in South Buffalo. “They shouldn’t be in the hands of some pseudo-governmental board of political appointees who answer to no one.”

Schroeder said Thruway Authority spending is indicative of the explosion of authorities in New York, which he estimated at 640. He said they have contributed $81.5 billion worth of debt to state government, with the Thruway Authority alone in debt for $2.4 billion.

“This out-of-control borrowing is irresponsible,” he said.

Trucking officials say the new toll hikes, combined with higher gasoline prices, will only increase the cost of all delivered goods.

“Unfortunately, the timing right now could not be worse,” said Kendra Adams, spokeswoman for the New York State Motor Truck Association. “With the economy faltering and high diesel costs, any additional costs the industry incurs has to be passed on.”

That, she said, will result in higher costs for staples like food and clothing.

That’s the thing that all the anti-car forces tend to ignore. While it’s easy as pie to mock commuters and people who must or enjoy driving long-distance, trucks use that roadway, too. The same trucks that now pay $4.30 / gallon for diesel fuel will now pay higher tolls to bring things like hemp and soy milk to the local cooperative market. These things affect the whole of society whether you like it or not. Priuses don’t deliver freight.

Kudos to Schroeder and Maziarz for at least raising the issue of state authorities being so out-of-control that their abolition or reformation is needed. Something drastic has to change, and the state needs to fundamentally change how it does business.

As with most things coming out of Albany, insult is added to injury:

Adams acknowledged the Thruway remains the road of choice for New York truckers, and as one of the safest and best maintained highways in America, the industry has no problem paying its fair share.

“But the majority of new toll revenues will be diverted to the canal,” she said. “That makes it that much more difficult to accept.”

It’s because of the Erie Canal? Hell, the Thruway at least serves an economic purpose. While it will cost you north of $12.00 to drive from Williamsville to Albany, if you take a boat through the canal, it will cost you $5.00 – 20.00 per day (depending on vessel size), and the toll is only paid if you pass through a lock or lift bridge. A ten-day pass is between $12.50 – 50.00 (again, depending on vessel size).

If the Canal is so deep in the hole, why not – I don’t know – raise tolls and fees on boaters?

New York State. It’s like a panhandler that won’t go away.

Congestion Pricing comes to New York City

31 Mar

The New York City Council passed a home rule measure 30-20 (yes, there are 50 legislators on New York City’s council). Now it moves on to Albany. Under the plan, pioneered in Singapore and popularized in London, motorists will be charged $8.00 to drive south of 60th Street in Manhattan. Trucks will pay $21, and this will be in effect Monday through Friday, 6am – 6pm. It is expected that congestion pricing will not only help lower traffic congestion, but also raise close to a half billion dollars per year.

The New York State Thruway: Fail

28 Jan

An audit by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reveals what we all suspected. The Thruway is not run efficiently, and is quick to pull the trigger on toll increases before prioritizing roadwork and otherwise critically assessing its expenses.

“It’s easy to raise tolls, but the Thruway Authority should take a hard look in the mirror before it pushes another toll hike on New Yorkers,” DiNapoli said. “Toll hikes are not warranted until the Thruway Authority examines its own spending. The Thruway is too important to the upstate economy to unnecessarily raise tolls and drive up the cost of everything from milk to heating oil, not to mention the impact on commuters.”

Congressman Brian Higgins added,

“Travelers along the Thruway are forced to pay for maintenance and improvements twice, once in the federal gas tax, which is paid by consumers and passed down to the Authority, and again through tolls.

DiNapoli pointed out that the Thruway has been lax in enforcing toll violations, and should jettison the Erie Canal system when a feasible means of supporting that extraordinarily expensive waterway is devised.

The Thruway Authority argues that the audit’s suggestions that certain “useful” but non-essential construction projects be deferred until 2012 would harm traffic flow and safety. Improving a state police barracks will do neither, and the Thruway Authority needs to be abolished – but in the meantime, it needs an overhaul.

The Authority – which essentially answers to no one, and is now run by holdover Pataki appointees – needs to start acting not just as a handy cash cow for Albany pols, and a dumping ground for things that toll money might help pay for. It needs to act like a provider of a service for consumers. The tolls need to be kept down. Monetize everything from EZ-Pass transponders to the toll plazas to the toll tickets with advertising. Install high-speed toll gates for every single lane, with license plate readers for those without transponders. Ontario’s 407 has no toll booths, and charges you an extra fee for reading your plate. That’s the model.

As with many things that are operated by the state, we’re using 1950s technology and ideas in 2008.

I don’t know if the Authority knows, or cares, but have you ever seen the lineup of cars at the Williamsville barrier on any given Friday afternoon in the summertime? Why is it that large trucks are permitted to use the EZ-Pass only lanes towards the left of the plaza? Why is it that even with the tolls that we pay and the federal money they get, the Thruway’s road quality is shamed by that of our toll-free neighbors on I-90?

Count the Thruway as one more of those things that Spitzer didn’t challenge head-on on day one. The Thruway is upstate’s main street. If it was toll-free, it would be a real shot in the arm to the cities that line up along its route, from Albany to Buffalo.

Grand Island Tolls Increase 33.3333%

8 Jan

The cover charge to enter Grand Island just went up. They have this guy to answer to.

The Thruway Authority had promised that tolls would increase by 10% across the system, but didn’t suggest that the increase on Grand Island would be higher. Two years ago, the toll increased from 50 cents to 75, and now it’s a dollar. 100% increase in 3 years? Welcome to New York.

The Thruway explains that toll and barrier tolls are rounded up to the next quarter.

When I heard about the increase, I thought it was the Thruway extending a middle finger directly at Rus Thompson. Sign his petition to eliminate the Grand Island tolls here.

New York State: Fail

20 Dec

failboat.jpg

The Thruway Authority has unsurprisingly voted to increase tolls along the stretch, claiming that fewer motorists means less toll revenue. Oh, and we need to improve the roadway and pay for the Erie Canal to the tune of $80 million/year.

It now costs $18.50 to get from the Major Deegan to the Ripley exit; $16.66 with an EZ-Pass discount. A discount that the Thruway is, incidentally, cutting in half.

All I know is that when I cross the border on Route 90 into Erie, PA, the road is not only smoother and maintained better, but it’s also gratis.

That’s so I can have the privilege of paying 6% sales tax on my purchases (7% in Philly & Pittsburgh) – except for most clothing – in a state with the 20th highest combined tax burden in the country. (New York is number 2).

And that’s what’s so frustrating. An entity that gives its employees and members free rides on the Thruway, and other perks, spends an inordinate amount of money on self-maintenance. The State DOT is fully capable of maintaining a toll-free state Thruway. The Thruway is one Authority we can do without.

Also – why exactly does the Erie Canal cost $80 million per year to maintain? Are there no savings that can be wrung from that figure?

If we had a tax burden similar to Pennsylvania’s, don’t you think the state as a whole would be significantly better off?

I’m Mad As Hell, And I’m Not Gonna Take It Anymore

24 Nov

The immortal words of Peter Finch from the movie “Network” served as a rallying cry during today’s march across the Grand Island Bridge to protest the presence of the tolls on both ends of the island.

While the tolls cannot be removed by legal means as the Ogden and Breckenridge tolls were, the public outcry is reaching a fever pitch with near 8,000 petition signatures and the support of the Western New York State Assembly and Senate delegations.

It was a bitterly cold day, but dozens of people showed up to march with Rus Thompson of NoGItolls.com in protest of what they feel is a system of double taxation on commuters in Niagara Falls, Grand Island, and Buffalo. Carl Paladino of Ellicott Development, who was responsible for the lawsuit which abolished the tolls in Downtown Buffalo, recently sent a letter to Governor Spitzer about the Grand Island Tolls issue:

The Grand Island Bridges and the Tappan Zee Bridge tolls are the only specific bridge tolls on the New’ York State Thruway System. The roads on both sides of the Grand island Bridges are toll free.

The Thruway Authority has hundreds of other bridges in its system, all of which are maintained out of general revenue.

Someone decided that the Grand Island Bridges should have specific toll charges ostensibly because of extraordinary upkeep costs that they thought WNY residents should pay.

The Thruway Authority receives from the Federal Highway Fund a per lane mile allocation of Federal Highway monies for maintaining non-toll interstate highways and bridges. For the upkeep and maintenance of those roads it appears that the DOT act on behalf of the Thruway Authority in applying for those funds annually from the Federal Government, receives the money, and the money is then used for the upkeep of New York State DOT roads and in some cases some monies are forwarded to the Thruway Authority. It all makes sense to someone.

There are no toll roads in Albany, except for the main line thruway, nor are there any toll bridges or interstate roads crossing the Hudson in Albany. Likewise in Utica, Schenectady, Syracuse, and Rochester, DOT bridges are non-tolled. The Skyway Bridge in Buffalo is non-tolled. Why does the State punish residents of Grand island and Niagara County than above the operating cost across its entire system. Why were the tolls on the Grand Island Bridges raised 50% instead of the 20% uniformly raised across the Thruway System?

It all kind of stinks.

Very truly yours,
Ellicott Development Company

Carl P. Paladino
Chief Executive Officer

It does stink, and someone should hold the state accountable.

Saturday Walk For Removal Of The Grand Island Tolls

23 Nov

Local activist Rus Thompson will be joined by local developer Carl Paladino and members of the Western New York State Assembly and Senate delegations to walk in support of the removal of the Grand Island Tolls tomorrow morning at 10AM.

Saturday’s, November 24th, protest event will begin with a 11 AM rally at 63rd Street and Buffalo Avenue in Niagara Falls. The rally participants will be joined by several public officials in the walk across the North Grand Island Bridge (east side) to an area near the Toll Barrier. There the presentation of petitions will be made to several States’ elected officials. The offices of NYS Senators Antoine Thompson, George Maziarz and Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte have indicated they will be present.

Thompson’s group has over 7,500 signatures for the removal of the I 190 toll barriers which will be presented to our elected leaders. You can sign the petition at the NOGItolls website.