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Editorial: Smoother Grand Island crossing on the horizon

Now that Grand Island has become the second location in New York to install cashless tolling, should motorists expect more? How about the distant promise of getting rid of tolls on the Thruway?

No one is quite that naïve. Still, motorists have something to be grateful for since the day has finally coming when they can forget about having to slow down or stop to pay a toll on the Grand Island bridges.

It would be better still, of course, if the tolls along the Thruway went away altogether. Defenders of a toll system argue that they are needed for highway maintenance. But the former tollbooths along the downtown section of the Niagara Thruway went away a little more than a decade ago without impact on the road’s safety or maintenance.

Still, it is unlikely bordering on unthinkable that motorists will ever be treated to such a toll-less stretch. But there is something to say for a smooth, uninterrupted ride. No more digging around for coins, or worrying about whether the E-ZPass has any money on the account.

So far, workers have installed a pair of metal structures that stretch over the I-190, one over the southbound lanes near the North Grand Island Bridge, connecting the island with Niagara Falls, and one over the northbound lanes near the South Grand Island Bridge. The latter connects the island with the Town of Tonawanda.

The tollbooths will not disappear right away. That it will happen sometime after the cashless process begins. The work will be done in phases, closing a few lanes at a time. Drivers will proceed through the tollbooths at 20 miles per hour. Once gone, drivers will be able to travel at the highway speed limit.

The cashless tolling system on Grand Island should be in operation by the end of March. No offense to the tollbooth personnel but this will be seen as a big win for motorists and those who work so hard to get to this point. Town Supervisor Nathan D. McMurray started working on the toll issue when he took office in 2015. He even went as far as to post a creative video on social media titled “Dear Governor Cuomo,” featuring a cute kitty cat. Whatever it takes.

Brian R. Michel, a commuter-activist who lives in Lewiston, worked hard to get 7,500 signatures in his “WNY for Grand Island Toll Barrier Removal” campaign last year. That’s the kind of public-private cooperation needed to get things done.

As reported in The News, the new system does not mean that there will be an end to paying to use the Grand Island bridges. It is supposed to help the flow of traffic and, for now, motorists will have to be content with that much.

The cashless tolling system was first put in place at the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson River. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has targeted the elimination of tollbooths in New York State by the end of 2020.

Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa is very interested in this prospect, having met with acting Thruway Authority Director Matthew J. Driscoll and Thruway leadership. Kulpa is hoping for the removal of the Williamsville toll barrier, resulting in an easing of traffic on Main Street in Amherst.

Cashless tolling is not the panacea. It will not reduce all of the traffic woes disrupting motorists’ lives. But it is a welcome step in the right direction.

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