Tag Archives: thruway

No Accountability and the Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy

5 Sep

The reason why the Thruway Authority will never, ever change the toll plazas in Williamsville and Lackawanna has to do with the fact that western New York is a nonentity. No one from Albany needs to pass through here on their way to Erie, and so it doesn’t really matter all that much whether you’re sitting in unnecessary traffic at Ripley, Lackawanna, or Williamsville on the I-90.

It’s 2013 and completely unacceptable that we haven’t made use of the not-very-advanced technology that is available to permit EZ-Pass holders fly by the toll plaza at highway speeds. No EZ-Pass, you can pay cash at a booth located off the main road, like they do in Florida.

The Thruway Authority is, actually, considering changing over to an all-electronic toll collection system, but only on the busiest part of the road, between Yonkers and Harriman. In other words, on the stretch of road Assembly members and Senators living in the New York City area take to get to work in Albany.

A report in the Clarence Bee (paywall) reveals that a meeting was held last week with local elected officials whereby the Thruway Authority made all the arguments for moving the Williamsville Plaza back east, past the Transit exit, relieving some of the traffic congestion on Main Street in Williamsville and other surface roads. But they refuse to do it.

The Thruway had originally slated $14 million to reconfigure and/or move the tolls, but now they’ve only got $6.5 million on the table. They acknowledged that there was not a lot of space available to reconfigure Williamsville the right way, but they were going to try anyway; they were going to go into it half-assed.

While officials from Williamsville, Lancaster, and Clarence pleaded with the Thruway to consider moving the plaza back to Pembroke, the Thruway Authority simply isn’t going to do it, and is talking about using electronic toll taking in a location that is already a bottleneck.

The Thruway Authority, of course, answers to nobody. If you complain, they don’t lose their contract or franchise to run the road. They run independently from the executive or legislative branches, which answer to the public through periodic elections. It has its own bureaucracy and budget, operating as a quasi-independent state-sanctioned entity, and if you don’t like queueing up at a too-small toll plaza using antiquated technology, well you can just go to hell and sit and like it.

Thruway employees get free EZ-Pass, so they don’t care. The Governor jets in and out of here, so he doesn’t care. Our local Assembly members and Senators are the ones who should be making the most noise about Thruway dysfunction, since they have to use the road to get to work, but instead we have Brian Higgins – a federal representative – calling for at least a toll-free stretch between Transit and Williamsville.

There is no accountability, so there is no motivation or impetus to improve service to Thruway consumers. It is more evidence of the dictatorship of the bureaucracy under which we live in New York.

Dispatches from EmpireWire

21 Aug

Courtesy Marquil at Empirewire.com

Snow: Remediate and Promote

3 Dec

Big lake effect snow events resulting in accumulation measured in feet.  It’s a way of life not just here, but also in Watertown, Rochester, and Syracuse.  Yet for the past couple of years, we’ve had big snow events that have crippled travel around here, leaving motorists stranded for days.

Meanwhile, almost the entire east of the United Kingdom has been pounded by sea-effect snow as unusual Arctic air from Siberia has swooped over the North Sea to snarl movement and commerce throughout that island nation.  It has crippled travel and left people stranded and unable to go to work.

The difference?  Although the UK is at a more northerly latitude, its weather is quite mild thanks to the moist, warmer air blowing in courtesy of the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic. Buffalo is at 42 degrees North, while London is at 51 degrees North – the same latitude as stark and wild Newfoundland and Labrador. Ireland has palm trees – Newfoundland doesn’t.  It is thought that a newly emerging La Nina event is causing the Siberian air to swoop down over western Europe.

It makes sense that England would have a hard time coping with a days-long dump of snow, as “gritters” attempt to keep roads free of ice and plows try to make their way through roads narrower and less straight than those here.  After all, they’re simply not used to extreme winter weather like this in southeastern England.

Buffalo, on the other hand, is almost synonymous with bad snowfall, yet we cope as ineffectively as the British.  I’m not talking about not being able to keep up with snowfall coming down at 2″ per hour – I’m talking about leaving motorists stranded on the region’s main arterial thoroughfare for 24+ hours.  That’s dangerously incompetent.  Then again, so is the fact that it will take the City of Buffalo several days to plow out all of its side streets in just its southern half.  But the Thruway is notoriously inept and a poor value for money.  Its draconian rules about who can and cannot service motorists on that roadway should have long ago been abolished as unfair, and its refusal to modernize its toll collection system is so inexplicable that the only conclusion is that they’re being punitive.

I’m a proponent of the notion that Buffalo needs to stop whining about our weather and embrace it instead.  Swedes, Russians, Canadians, Minnesotans, and residents of other places with big winters make the most of it. Quebec City is known for its winter carnival every February, when the temperature is negative a million.

Celsius.

Efforts like the Winterfest or Santa’s Park or last year’s Powder Keg make the most of our winter weather, but they don’t go far enough.  Since Buffalo is best known for its snow, we should embrace it and market that.  But we won’t, mostly because Frank Lloyd Wright had nothing to do with it and public money can’t be thrown at it.

I have an idea along these lines, which I’ll discuss in a later post.

But in the meantime, it’s stupid that we moan about an integral part of Buffalo life – our messed up weather, and it’s inexcusable that we can’t effectively clear it.  Buffalo Niagara International Airport’s snow remediation facility is the envy of the world.  So should our road crews.

We Can’t Have Nice Things

25 Feb

A change that Florida has made to one of its toll roads.

See that?

The people with a toll transponder stay on the main highway lanes at highway speeds, while people who have to pay cash pull over to the side and enjoy their wait.

New York State Thruway failure of an Authority, why the hell can’t we have that? If you’re going to make me pay almost $30 to drive to Yonkers, at least let me fly through the damn tolls.

Want to talk about Buffalo being branded as fun or innovative or historical or a place with great wings? How about just a basic competence?* If we had just that, we’d be one step ahead and worrying about how to brand this place would be significantly easier.

We can’t have dessert until after we’ve finished our meal. Buffalo hasn’t even ordered yet.

*I realize that this sounds like I’m bashing Brian’s post, but I’m not. I’m just saying that none of that branding stuff matters if we can’t do really simple, basic things properly.

Steel Encrusted Wallets

3 Jan

The New York State Thruway is so easy, isn’t it?  It’s the low-hanging fruit of state authorities, all of which are structurally corrupt, fiscally imprudent patronage mills that help to hide the true nature of state finances.  Think of the Thruway as the face of all state authorities; if you think it’s bad, imagine how bad the ones are that you don’t pay attention to.

So, we have another January first, another toll hike, and another opportunity for Rus Thompson to provide words of disapproval to a reporter.

This means that it costs more to get across New York State for businesspeople and  tourists, but more ominously, it again increases the cost of doing business if you’re in trucking and logistics. The incentive to drop down to Pennsylvania and head west on the I-80 (which meets up with the I-90 in Ohio) just went up another 5%.

The privilege to drive from the Major Deegan Expressway to the Pennsylvania state line now costs $22.75 ($21.61 with EZ-Pass; a full savings of $1.14! Wow!)  Our Western New York delegation pays $13.10 to get to Albany,  $12.45 with EZ-Pass.  But they probably get comped, so they don’t really care.

We already know that Thruway workers get comped, so there’s zero incentive for them personally to contain costs and reduce fees.

And what do we get for that kind of money?  Not counting our already high gasoline and other car-related taxes and fees?  Did the state install high-speed toll collecting barriers such as the ones that Ontario’s 407 has had for a decade, enabling tolls to be collected at highway speed?  Did they move the tolls back from Williamsville and Lackawanna to permit Western New Yorkers to have a toll-free commute in an already depressed area?  Are the Grand Island Bridges really all that safe?  Are the tolls we pay to get from the Tonawandas to the chemically enhanced Niagara Falls waterfront used to repair and renovate those bridges?

This is an organization that, rather than do what most states have done and align exit numbers with mile markers, chose to append an “A” to exits added in places like Pembroke and East Syracuse. (When I once wrote to the Thruway Authority to ask why they didn’t make the change to mile marker exits, I got some convoluted response about how the Thruway actually follows the I-87 and the I-90, and it wouldn’t make sense.  I guess that explains why the mile markers on the Thruway count down the miles from the commencement of the Thruway on the I-87 in Yonkers, right through the I-90 to Ripley).

From the News article:

In 2008, DiNapoli released an audit of the Thruway Authority, along with suggestions for cost savings.

But the Thruway Authority — which is also responsible for the 524-mile Erie Canal system — has yet to undertake any long-term effort to cut costs, DiNapoli said.

“The toll hikes we’ve seen over the past two years might have been avoided with some better fiscal sense,” he said.

The Thruway Authority, meanwhile, argues it has cut more than 550 positions since 1995, but tolls are the primary way to pay for improvements to the deteriorating 641-mile system.

This year’s hike is expected to generate an additional $27 million in revenue to help fund the final phase of a five-year $2.1 billion capital improvement plan, said Michael R. Fleischer, executive director of the Thruway Authority.

“We have a highway system that is over 50 years old,” Fleischer said last week. “We need to make these investments so the Thruway can continue to provide safe and reliable transportation for the people of this state.”

And yet somehow the state DOT manages to maintain 114,000 miles of roadway without user fees, but with a mix of state and federal funding.

The New York State Thruway Authority is a sham organization that borrows and spends with little oversight and negligible accountability.   Its continued operation without major changes, including an inquiry into whether it should be abolished completely, is insulting.

And to those who argue that the Thruway enables out-of-state motorists to contribute to its maintenance, perhaps the state should stop viewing trucking companies and tourists as little more than steel-encrusted wallets.

Quick Question

5 Aug

Why do we need a Thruway Authority in New York State?

O Hai

6 Jan

Busy, busy, busy coming back from several days off, so here’s a catch-up post:

1. Paul Krugman – nobel laureate in economics – predicts a second great depression looming right now unless some very aggressive Keynesian policies are implemented. This isn’t fun.

2. Time Warner is hiking rates. Weren’t we supposed to have actual competition between cable companies by now? Weren’t we promised that, like with electricity and gas, where NYSEG and National Fuel, respectively, handle the delivery, we could pick the generator? Why can’t I pick a different cable provider and just pay Time Warner for the delivery charge? I’m not putting a dish on my house, and FIOS is available in like 6 towns.

3. So, if I go car shopping now, can I get ridiculous, unprecedented deals on vehicles?

4. Steve Jobs has a disease whereby he eats but doesn’t gain weight. That’s a disease?

5. Chris Collins and the legislature are going to court some more to argue over who can raise taxes, and by how much. What a wonderful utopia we live in.

6. Niagara Falls continues to impress. No matter how silly and bad it gets there, it always manages to get sillier and worse. That takes genuine skill.

7. News of the shuttering of a local company that makes rolls for player pianos is being met with sadness. Workers are expected to be absorbed into the parent company’s phonograph and VHS tape divisions.

8. Although I had tickets to attend Obama’s inauguration, and I planned to attend with my 8 year-old daughter, I have decided against it. The thought of flying down to Baltimore for one day and battling my way in and out (and through) DC, given the estimated 5 million people expected to show up, just seemed to be too much of a logistical migraine. Instead, we’ll go to the Detroit car show (a.k.a. NAIAS) later in the week, and I’ll get to post a bunch of nonsense about cars that will please me, but that you’ll all ignore.

9. A woman hit black ice on the 990 at North French the other day, and her SUV flipped over down the embankment, killing her. Her two children, also in the car, were only mildly hurt. This is a tragedy that really should prompt someone to look into the design of that roadway. Even the slightest slipperiness causes cars to careen off of that roadway and down embankments, and I can’t imagine it would be that difficult for the DOT to add guardrails to the side of the road. This morning, I passed by the spot where the woman left the roadway, and I find that the guardrail begins just before the overpass, and there is a massive 50 – 100 foot dropoff right before it with no guardrail whatsoever. That entire stretch of roadway is, frankly, a death waiting to happen day in and day out. Be careful. We’re expected to get snow and ice again tonight.

10. During a recent drive into Canada, I noticed a truck spraying liquid icemelt to the surface of the QEW, rather than spreading salt. I wonder if there is a cost benefit to that, or whether it is significantly more effective than road salt?

11. Speaking of roads, tolls on the Thruway went up 5% this week. But don’t fret – it’s just the Authority’s way of saying, “Happy New Year”, and “thanks for staying in New York. Suckers.”

12. NYU’s Brennan Center reminds us that New York’s legislature remains among the most dysfunctional in the nation, and that few, if any, of its recommended changes and reforms have been implemented. Naturally, lawmakers legislative leaders deny that there’s a problem at all, likening more transparency and debate to the way third world banana republics do business. Of course, that is completely inaccurate, if not downright insulting, but none of it matters one whit. They don’t care, there is no impetus to change, and by and large, the people of the state of New York don’t care. At least, not in a way that would prompt lawmakers to act.

Happy New Year, everybody!

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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Useless State Authority Caught Breaking the Law

7 Aug

God almighty, someone remind me again why we maintain a Thruway Authority again?

HT Bill

Welcome to Buffalo-Niagara?

8 Feb

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Ontario has them right off the QEW in Fort Erie and in St Catherine’s. There’s also one on the 420 not far from the Rainbow Bridge.

That’s three Provincially-run tourist centers within spitting distance of the border that offer comprehensive tourist information for every region in the Province. They even feature vending, bathrooms, and currency exchange. You can pick up a free map from, and reserve a room through, the friendly people who work there.

Yet on the New York side, there’s nothing. Nothing at the Peace Bridge. Nothing off the Rainbow Bridge. Nothing at the Q-L Bridge. Nothing on Grand Island. Nothing until you hit Angola going west on the I-90, or Pembroke going east. And by the time a visiting Canadian reaches Angola or Pembroke, the attractions in Buffalo and its immediate environs are at least 20 miles behind you in either direction.

For a region that puts so much stock in tourism, whether it be as high-minded as architecture, or as low-brow as sports, that’s shockingly poor.