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TOLL OF TRAVEL
HOLIDAY WILL ADD TO THRUWAY'S TRAFFIC RECORD

This already has been a record-breaking summer on the Thruway.

And this holiday weekend will only add to it.

Travel experts predict it will be the second busiest Labor Day traffic weekend ever on the nation's highways, with about 29 million motorists driving somewhere.

Collectors are bracing for the onslaught of cars at local tollbooths.

The lines of cars will start forming at the Williamsville plaza as early as Friday morning.

"You don't look at the lines," said Carolyn Fabor, a toll collector. "You keep working and concentrate on the car in front of you."

Ms. Fabor and her colleagues have seen a lot of cars this summer.

Records have been set this summer for traffic and toll collections across the 641-mile superhighway crossing New York State.

The tollbooths at the Buffalo city line near South Ogden Street collected more than $20,700 on June 24, the most ever for one day at that location.

Toll collectors took in nearly $1.5 million across the entire Thruway system on July 2, also a record daily amount.

A record 494,905 vehicles on July 23 traveled on portions of the toll road where motorists are given toll tickets when they first get on the road and then pay to get off, including much of the 426-mile mainline that connects New York City and Buffalo and the section to the Pennsylvania state line.

Even rising gasoline prices won't keep motorists off the roads this year, said Carolyn Harding, a spokeswoman for AAA of Western and Central New York.

Labor Day travelers in New York State can expect to pay an average $1.32 a gallon for self-serve, regular unleaded gasoline. That's up 19 cents from last Labor Day. The price at the pump is expected to drop with the reduced demand after the holiday weekend, industry experts say.

"We've had banner travel holidays all summer," Ms. Harding said. "People are getting in their cars and going places."

Labor Day is the third-busiest travel weekend of the year behind Christmas and the Fourth of July, Ms. Harding said.

An estimated 34.8 million Americans are expected to travel 100 miles or more from home, about 29.2 million by car and 5.6 million by air, bus, train or ship -- nearly 6 percent more than last year's Labor Day holiday.

About 37.4 million traveled during the Fourth of July holiday this year, including the local travelers who contributed to a couple of the Thruway's daily records that were set during that weekend.

To set so many one-day records this summer is amazing, said John Platt, executive director of the Thruway.

"Watch this Labor Day," Platt said. "It could happen again. It's possible. It depends on the weather."

Some motorists got an early start.

Lea Boa of Kitchener, Ont., decided not to wait until Friday to begin the Labor Day weekend.

Mrs. Boa -- along with her husband, infant child and six dogs -- hit the road Wednesday for a trip to Vermont and Maine that will include a dog show and shopping at an outlet mall.

"We figured leaving on Wednesday and coming back next Wednesday, we'd be able to avoid the Labor Day traffic," she said.

Platt said he thinks overall traffic this year on the Thruway will beat last year's mark.

More people are traveling because of good economic times overall in the state, Platt said.

"It's a very good economy," he said. "People are working and people are also traveling on weekends and in record numbers. Tourism is good."

Niagara Falls tourism boosts Thruway traffic in Western New York, as does the trade corridor from Toronto to Buffalo and westbound toward Pennsylvania.

The tollbooths at the Williamsville plaza are the second busiest on the Thruway.

All the booths will be open for traffic during the day, except for the hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., said Cynthia Blest, toll division manager.

Eight lanes will be open for westbound motorists pulling into the plaza to pay their tolls, with five of the lanes equipped with tandem booths. In all, employees at 13 booths will collect money.

Four lanes will be available for eastbound motorists pulling into the plaza.

At the most, collectors can take tolls from about 270 cars an hour.

As many as 1,100 vehicles an hour can pull through the E-ZPass lanes. The toll is automatically deducted from a prepaid account via a small electronic device attached to the vehicle.

Last Friday, some 63,000 vehicles collected toll tickets or paid tolls at the Williamsville plaza, Ms. Blest said.

In 1998, the average daily traffic was 21,697 vehicles, according to Thruway figures.

In addition to the Williamsville plaza, the Lackawanna toll plaza will be among the busiest interchanges in Western New York, and motorists should expect delays, said Anya Frost, a Thruway spokeswoman.

At peak times, motorists can expect to wait between 10 to 20 minutes at the busier toll plazas.

State police will patrol the Thruway in full force over the holiday, including DWI patrols, Miss Frost said.

All Thruway repair and construction projects requiring temporary lane closures will be suspended Friday around noon until Tuesday morning to help traffic flow, she said.

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