Before the New York State Thruway Authority receives a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration for repayment of previously received federal aid, Congressman Brian Higgins is telling the authority to return the favor to local residents and waive collection of the 15-cent toll charged at the Williamsville toll barrier.
"After more than a decade of study and after burning through $6 million in taxpayer support, the Authority owes it to the driving public in Western New York to do better than what they have proposed," Higgins wrote in a letter to NYSTA Executive Director Thomas Madison.
The Thruway Authority is preparing to ask FHWA to waive the repayment of $6 million in federal aid, which was spent on toll relocation studies. Relocation discussions are currently at a stall while the Authority undertakes pilot studies that look at a potential system-wide conversion to a cashless system. Upgrades to the barriers in Williamsville to improve traffic flow are also underway.
In addition to providing relief to local drivers, Higgins argues eliminating the 15-cent toll would advance ongoing efforts to reduce congestion and make Main Street in Williamsville a more walkable community.
"You may be aware that officials in the Village of Williamsville are working to make their Main Street business district more pedestrian-friendly," he said. "While they are making tangible progress in this regard, their success will be constrained unless the issue of excess traffic resulting from toll evasion is addressed."
Under Higgins' proposal, vehicles with EZ-Pass, travelling between exits 49 and 50, would not be charged the 15-cent toll. The congressman points to precedent, noting that tolls are waived along small stretches of the Thruway in other regions of the state. Vehicles in the Albany area, which use Exit 25A and exits 24, 25 or 26, are not assessed a toll.
"It is important that the public receive significant tangible improvements in return for their substantial investments in the toll relocation study," Higgins wrote. "The elimination of this toll ... would make the forgiveness of the Authority's obligation to repay the federal government more palatable."
Higginsled the fight to stop toll collection on the I-190 in Buffalo in 2006 and more recently won approval of an amendment to block a study to create a new federal toll along the U.S.' northern border with Canada.