A communitywide campaign to eliminate Thruway toll barriers in the Buffalo area has given birth to plans for an accelerated study of the issue, which will begin next year.
State Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, said Tuesday a traffic study of the toll plazas will be completed by the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council, which distributes $200 million in federal transportation funding for the region each year.
"In order to have a complete and thorough understanding of what remedial avenues can be taken, I requested an accelerated preliminary study for the area," Volker said.
The push for elimination of tolls started in April, after the Thruway Authority announced it would be moving the Williamsville toll barrier.
The Hamburg Town Board passed a resolution April 27 asking for a study on the impact of eliminating the toll barriers, particularly the Lackawanna toll barrier. The Erie County Legislature conducted a hearing on the issue in May, as support for removing other toll plazas in and around Buffalo grew.
But Thruway Authority Chairman Howard E. Steinberg said in a May letter to Hamburg Councilwoman Kathleen Courtney Hochul that moving the Williamsville toll barrier will command the complete focus of the authority, and the authority would not entertain plans to move any other toll plazas.
In June, U.S. Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, D-N.Y., added his voice to those calling for a second look at Thruway tolls in Erie County. In July, Volker held several "high-level" meetings with Steinberg and members of the Western New York Legislative Delegation.
Volker said the Thruway Authority is cooperating fully with the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council on potential remedies to congestion problems in Western New York, and specifically at the Blasdell and Hamburg exits.
Volker said the study may address concerns expressed by residents in the community, such as noise and air pollution, and economic development impediments near tolled interchanges such as Blasdell and Hamburg.
The study will begin early next year as part of an update of the Transportation Council's long-range plan update.
The Transportation Council, previously known as the Niagara Frontier
Transportation Committee, is run by representatives of the seven major transportation agencies in the region. The agency's name was changed recently to raise its profile and avoid confusing it with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
"It is my hope that an in-depth and exhaustive study will address the concerns that residents and business people in our community are faced with on a daily basis," Volker said.
"We will be seeking public hearings in Hamburg to provide the opportunity for our citizens and business owners to be heard," Ms. Hochul said.
The Hamburg Chamber of Commerce has launched a letter-writing and petition campaign. Ms. Hochul said she soon expects to mail hundreds of letters and signatures gathered in the "No Tolls" drive to the Thruway Authority.
"I still have an outstanding invitation to Mr. Steinberg to meet with us in Western New York, but until then our correspondence will continue," she said.
The issue also has entered the gubernatorial race, with Independence Party candidate B. Thomas Golisano calling for the removal of Thruway tolls.