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Traffic surge follows toll removal
More vehicles use Niagara, Mainline Thruway

The elimination of toll barriers at Breckenridge and South Ogden streets has led to significant increases in traffic on the Niagara Thruway as well as the Mainline Thruway.

That might not qualify as shocking news, but transportation analyst Stephen Szopinski described the level of some of the increases as surprising.

"Traffic patterns have changed," said Szopinski, who works for the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

Some of those increases have been significant, according to a detailed count of traffic on the Niagara Thruway and Youngmann Highway in the two months after the Thruway Authority bowed to public pressure and stopped collecting tolls at the barriers on Oct. 30.

* During the weekday afternoon rush hour, defined as 3 to 6 p.m., traffic inbound to Buffalo at South Ogden Street, where motorists previously paid a toll, jumped 30.6 percent from the same period the previous year.

* During the morning rush hour -- 7 to 10 a.m. weekdays -- inbound traffic at that location was up 26.2 percent from the previous year.

* At the Breckenridge barrier, where motorists southbound on the Niagara Thruway previously paid a toll, traffic was up 20.1 percent during the peak weekday afternoon period.

One of those additional vehicles passing the site of the Breckenridge barrier undoubtedly belonged to Dr. Douglas Schultz, a pediatrician who lives on the West Side but commutes every day to Wheatfield.

To return home, he used to drive south on the Niagara Thruway, get off at the Scajaquada Expressway exit to avoid paying the Black Rock toll, then use city streets to reach his residence.

"Now, I just go straight through and get off at the Peace Bridge exit," he said, adding that the change cuts about 10 minutes from his commute every day. "It's nice to see some positive change in Buffalo for a change."

The only spot along the Niagara Thruway between the South Grand Island Bridge and the now-gone South Ogden Street toll barrier where traffic decreased during the period was the River Road exit, where traffic dropped 4 percent.

Traffic at all other interchanges was up, as it was along the Mainline Thruway from the Lackawanna toll barrier to the interchange with the Youngmann Highway.

The biggest increases were found at the locations of the former toll barriers and from the interchange of the Niagara Thruway with the Thruway to downtown Buffalo.

Overall, average traffic during weekdays was up 19 percent at South Ogden Street and 12.2 percent at Breckenridge Street.

Between South Ogden Street and downtown, weekday average traffic was up:

* 14.1 percent between South Ogden and Clinton streets.

* 10.6 percent between Clinton and Seneca streets.

* 11.2 percent between Seneca and Smith streets;

* 9.6 percent between Smith and Hamburg streets.

* 15.1 percent between Hamburg and Elm streets.

Traffic is also up on the Mainline Thruway. Eastbound morning rush hour traffic was up 6.4 percent at the Lackawanna toll barrier and 11.4 percent at Ridge Road. Westbound traffic for the same period was up 12 percent at William Street.

The weekday average traffic along the Mainline Thruway in both directions between the Kensington Expressway and Cleveland Drive increased 8 percent to a total number of 140,900 vehicles, which Szopinski said was the highest number ever recorded locally.

The Thruway Authority is gathering data to update the statistics, with more recent numbers expected by the end of the year.

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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