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Removing a barrier Some signs of improved traffic flow should encourage Thruway motorists

To Whom It May Concern at the New York State Thruway Authority: The good people of Western New York appreciate the effort toward getting the toll barriers at Breckenridge and South Ogden streets down, especially now that there isn't some ridiculous commuter tax. Let that serve as encouragement to complete this job as quickly as possible.

The toll booth removal project has triggered traffic delays as commuters funnel through the zones, and those delays seemed greater at the Breckenridge barrier. The project now is winding down there, after removals at the Ogden site, and late this week there already was some improvement. Anyone suffering through the recent worsened delays during the actual removal work can only applaud that, and hope for more.

Analysts at the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council note that two months after the Thruway Authority's Oct. 30 agreement to stop collecting Niagara Thruway tolls, traffic shot up on both the Niagara Thruway and Youngmann Highway. We're talking deep, double-digit increases, triggered by the lifting of the tolls. We're guessing it also triggered double-digit increases in the number of cell phone excuses called in to waiting bosses, friends and family members.

The short-term pain, of course, is nothing compared with the long-term benefits of ending the only beltway commuter tax in the Thruway system. That took a lawsuit, crusades by some local public officials and congressmen and a State Senate election in 2006 to solve. There's still work to be done in moving the Williamsville and Lackawanna mainline toll barriers farther away from the city and its first-ring suburbs, but the immediate Thruway need this season has been removal of the abandoned Niagara Thruway toll booths.

That work now is being done, as promised. Projects to remove the Black Rock and City Line toll barriers are well under way, with 75 percent of the Ogden project done, including removal of the entire structure and repair of pavement. What remains there is final striping and signing of the pavement and closure of the U-turn area with a concrete median barrier.

Half of the Black Rock, or Breckenridge structure, has been removed, and traffic has shifted so demolition can begin on the remaining half. Demolition and pavement repair work in that area will continue through August, with closure of the existing U-turn area with concrete barriers. By late September, both sites are scheduled to be completed. And so will the promise. The Thruway Authority deserves credit for getting this done.

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