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Editorial: Did a kitten spark change of heart on bridge tolls?

The governor’s office denies it had any influence, but we think it would be difficult for even the most seasoned political leader to resist a video of silly clips ranging from a dancing cowboy to a begging kitten. C’mon – a begging kitten!

Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray and many other community leaders have been pushing unsuccessfully for the state to remove the maddening tolls on the Grand Island bridges, or at least move to a high-speed cashless tolling system.

A week ago McMurray tried a new tack; he posted on social media a video humbly and apparently effectively titled “Dear Governor Cuomo.” The video is smart, slick and flattering to the governor without gushing. Well, maybe a little gushing. McMurray said he shot and edited the work himself.

Within days state officials were in touch with McMurray, assuring him that the state is committed to cashless tolls for Grand Island and the rest of the state, although no date was promised. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s people insist that the timing of that announcement was a coincidence and the video had nothing to do with it.

Whatever the motivation, cashless tolling will provide some measure of relief for motorists pouring pollutants into the air while they are caught in long lines behind the toll booths.

Most folks around here would rather see an end to tolls entirely. After all, they were supposed to have been abolished 21 years ago. But the money from more than 23,000 cars a day adds up – more than $18 million was collected in 2015. The Thruway Authority is loathe to give that up, with officials saying the tolls are necessary to maintain the bridges and I-190 on Grand Island. But why are these bridges singled out for tolls while other revenues pay for spans over other major waterways?

The state should simply eliminate the tolls on this commuter route, as it did years ago with the toll booths farther south on the Niagara Thruway. The reality is, that is unlikely to happen any time soon, so cashless tolls will at least offer motorists some relief.

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