It may seem like a heavy toll to pay, and, for some, it is. But the proposed increase by the New York State Thruway Authority represents what they say it is: a modest increase.
The fact that few showed up to a recent public hearing on the matter speaks volumes – in whispers.
Perhaps motorists who use the Thruway feel the wear and tear on their vehicles as they trudge up and down a highway nearly 70 years old. The road needs repair and maintenance.
Frank G. Hoare, the authority’s interim director, makes a strong case for an increase.
“The fact is that we don’t receive any dedicated federal, state, or local tax dollars to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the Thruway, which will soon be turning 70 years old,” he wrote in an Another Voice column on this page. “Our entire super-highway system is funded by the people who use it, in other words, through tolls.”
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Of course, this does not sit well with folks who have been hit with sky-high inflation that translates into more money to fill the car’s tank and more money to put groceries in the refrigerator. But Hoare strikes the right note when he argues that it has been 14 years since the last toll increase on the Thruway. Since that time, the cost of asphalt to maintain the roads, the cost of road salt to keep the roads clear in the winter and the cost of steel to repair bridges have all risen “astronomically.”
We get it. So how bad will the pain be? Motorists will only feel a pinch, if Hoare is to be believed.
Before the Thruway board’s final decision on any increases, statewide tolls will remain frozen throughout 2023. If the two-phase increase is approved, the first increment will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, and the second will start on Jan. 1, 2027.
If approved, the cost of traveling the Thruway’s Erie Section (Lackawanna to the Pennsylvania border) would increase only 30 cents over four years, from $2.97 to $3.27, in 2027. The increase for motorists who don’t use E-ZPass would be 75% higher.
East of Buffalo, Williamsville (Exit 50) to LeRoy (Exit 47) would increase 19 cents per trip over four years from, $1.87 to $2.07 in 2027. Hoare helpfully points out that a cup of coffee increased more in the last year alone. He is correct. People will pay plenty for their lattes, so why not redirect that money from the coffeehouse?
Not everyone is going to be so understanding.
Paula A. Martin, a retiree from Niagara Falls who happens to seldom use the Thruway, still objected. She understands the need to raise tolls to pay for maintenance and operating costs, as she was recently quoted in a News story. She questioned the Thruway Authority’s plan to increase tolls for non-E-ZPass users to 75% more than what E-ZPass customers pay. Currently, it is 30% more. Local resident Charles Dickinson agreed. He also uses the Thruway sparingly but could not understand why officials wanted to charge more to those who do not have an E-ZPass.
The divide is likely growing between those who have migrated to the newer cashless system and those who, for whatever reason, reject E-ZPass. It is a choice and, unfortunately, in these digital days choosing to remain off certain grids will cost more. Those who are reluctant to use E-ZPass would be wise to reconsider.
As for higher tolls, no one likes them, but everyone should understand that costs have risen. Just as gas and milk cost more due to factors beyond our control so, too, has the cost of materials to maintain the roads we prefer to travel.
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