New York State's inability to control spending continues to take a toll on residents. That remains the case -- and is true in the most literal sense -- on the New York State Thruway, where motorists continue to shell out substantial tolls to travel from city-to-city, or, in the Buffalo area, simply to get to work in the morning.
It wasn't supposed to be that way. After the Thruway was built in 1950, drivers were told that tolls would be lifted once the road's bonds were paid off in 1996. We're three years past the deadline and that still hasn't happened.
There is no good reason why this situation cannot be remedied, and the first step in that direction should be here in the Buffalo area.
Toll booths await motorists on their commute to work, as they visit friends in the next town, or as they head to the shopping mall. If you don't get caught at the Lackawanna or Williamsville toll booths, there's a 50-cent charge waiting at the Ogden Street and Black Rock toll barriers, or on the Grand Island Bridges.
It's one thing to pay tolls when you pack up the family for a vacation. It's quite another to face them each day as you go about your business within the region.
The Thruway Authority plans to expand the toll-free zone by moving the Williamsville toll booth to the east, but has so far resisted community pressure to relocate the Lackawanna barrier farther west.
A study of toll plazas in the Buffalo area is being conducted by the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council, which is heavily involved in the distribution of federal transportation funding for the region.
Another study, on the economic impact of losing toll revenue, is being conducted by the Thruway Authority. Hamburg Councilwoman Kathy Hochul said the authority first refused to do the study but then relented after she and State Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew, continued to press for the review.
Hochul asks a logical question: Why should a study even be necessary? The state has had almost four years to study life after Thruway tolls. She claims that the state simply is taking toll money and using it to fund state projects off the budget.
State officials have plenty of excuses. If the tolls are removed, huge sums of money to maintain and improve the Thruway would have to come from tax sources, they say. There are new bonds to pay off. And besides, much of the toll revenue comes from out-of-state motorists.
It's a familiar story: Our leaders got accustomed to a huge source of funds and -- despite a longtime commitment -- couldn't wean themselves off it.
What's important now is that Thruway tolls are not simply accepted as a permanent form of taxation. Serious planning should set the table for their eventual -- if belated -- removal.
Tolls are more than nickel-and-dime nuisances. They quickly become major expenditures for regular users, discourage commerce and tourism, cause traffic congestion and increase pollution.
We've been told for too long why tolls can't be removed. The ongoing studies present a great opportunity to reverse that sorry trend and to begin the overdue process of removing tolls in New York State.