Western New Yorkers who use Interstate 190 are grateful not to have to pay tolls anymore when they commute to work or come into the city for any reason. But they're still dealing with the traffic backups the tolls created because the booths are still there.
For reasons of convenience and safety, it's time for the New York State Thruway Authority to begin taking them down.
Residents of this area had long complained about having to pay tolls to commute to work. In no other city did tolls exist on intracity Thruway spurs and, to make matters worse, Niagara Thruway tolls were underwriting maintenance costs on part of Interstate 84, a non-toll highway north of New York City.
A lawsuit, a congressman's threat and Republican fears about the State Senate elections coalesced in 2006 to produce a sudden agreement to eliminate the tolls at the Breckenridge and Ogden toll barriers just before November's voting. But their elimination was immediately followed by maddening backups, mainly at the Breckenridge/Black Rock barrier, apparently due to the need to slow down to 20 mph and an increase in the number of vehicles using the now toll-free highway. Northbound traffic, entering Buffalo through the Ogden barrier, also has been slowed, though not to the speed of flowing glue.
That was last fall. Since then, motorists have seen no sign of efforts to complete the project by taking down the barriers and allowing for a smooth drive into downtown. That may be about to change.
The Thruway Authority expects to open sealed bids on April 25. Demolition would begin after the Authority identifies the low bidder and gains clearance to proceed from the state comptroller's office. The project is scheduled to be completed by early fall.
It's nice to be relieved of the expense of those tolls. It will be just as pleasant to be relieved of the stop-and-go frustration of the morning commute.
Then the Authority can redouble its efforts to move the Williamsville and Lackawanna toll barriers that continue to snag urban-area commuters on the Thruway.