It’s not just the tolls at the entrances to Grand Island that are objectionable – though they surely are that – but so are the delays, especially for drivers heading north and especially in the tourist season. The tolls cause frustrating and unnecessary backups – sometimes long ones – and also help make the community a place to get through rather than to explore and experience.
A new effort is underway to abolish the tolls at Grand Island and, by all rights, it should succeed. The charge was supposed to have ended 20 years ago, yet still it remains, to the frustration of all motorists, whether they are local residents or visitors.
An alliance of political leaders is leading the fight to eliminate the tolls. They include Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, D-Lewiston, and State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, both of whom have drafted legislation to eliminate the tolls. Grand Island Supervisor Nathan McMurray is fully on board, as is Niagara Falls political activist Rus Thompson, who hopes to gain the necessary Republican support in the Senate. Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, should be first among those supporters.
It’s past time for these tolls to go away, but it will take work. The tolls on the Niagara Thruway weren’t abolished until after developer Carl Paladino filed a lawsuit against the Thruway Authority, prompting the state – led by Senate Republicans who were facing election-year pressures – to come up with the money to take them down. That was 10 years ago.
Now, a group of public officials wants to finish the job, taking aim at the Grand Island toll barriers that are no longer necessary to pay off the bonds that paid to build the bridges. Now, the toll revenue helps to fund Thruway Authority projects in other parts of the state, while putting a crimp in the local economy, discouraging private investment in Grand Island and creating maddening bottlenecks during rush hours.
It’s time to fulfill the long-ago promise that the tolls would be eliminated once construction of the bridges was paid for. Yes, the barriers bring in revenue from tourists visiting Niagara Falls, Lewiston and Canada. Yes, that lowers the costs that must be paid by New Yorkers. Get rid of them, anyway.
Imagine if motorists had to pay to enter Williamsville or East Aurora or even the Elmwood Village. How would those fees have diminished those areas’ ability to thrive? Grand Island’s opportunities would expand if the tolls were removed. Pollution would be reduced if hundreds of cars weren’t creeping up to the toll barriers.
The tolls were necessary, at one time. They ensured that the bridge was paid for by the people who used it most. That was fair; indeed, it is the best defense for the existence of public authorities.
But that defense collapses once the bridge – or highway or tunnel – is paid for. Then, routine maintenance should be funded in a different way – one that does not penalize motorists and impede a municipality’s prospects for economic growth.
McMurray, Ceretto and Kennedy should continue their efforts, and Ortt should join the effort, if only to help move traffic more smoothly into Niagara County. And business leaders should join the effort.
This is a moment for all hands to be on deck. The only question is how to continue funding maintenance of these bridges, and we’re sure state leaders can come up with an acceptable answer to that.