Toll plazas will no longer be accepting cash payments
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday announced cashless tolling will go live at the Grand Island toll barriers on Thursday, March 29 (weather-dependent). As of the morning commute on Friday, March 30, the toll plazas at the north and south Grand Island bridges will no longer accept cash payment.
With the conversion to open-road, cashless tolling, drivers will no longer have to stop and wait to pay a toll, which is projected to save drivers approximately 200 minutes per year on their commutes.
Instead of tolls, Thruway commuters at each end of Grand Island will pass through a gantry of state-of-the-art sensors and cameras suspended over the highway. These sensors read E-ZPass tags and take license plate images to record payment.
Vehicles with E-ZPass tags will be automatically charged, while those vehicles without E-ZPass will have their license plates recorded and a bill mailed to the registered owner of each vehicle in approximately 30 days. Customers who pay using "Tolls ByMail" will pay the same toll rate as previously paid by cash customers, while E-ZPass customers with New York accounts will continue to get a 5 percent discount. The cash rate for the toll will remain $1.
"Open-road, cashless tolling exemplifies New York's commitment to a transportation system for a 21st-century economy," Cuomo said. "By transitioning the Grand Island barriers to cashless tolling, we will be saving time and easing congestion, allowing drivers to get where they need to go quicker and more efficiently."
"Like so many fellow Western New Yorkers, I've experienced the frustration of waiting endlessly at tolls, especially during summer months heading to Niagara Falls or Artpark over the Grand Island Bridge," Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said. "Finally, those days are over. No longer will harried parents be late for after-work soccer games, and truckers won't lose valuable time sitting in traffic. Cashless tolling will improve traffic flow allowing motorists to get to their destinations easier and quicker without having to stop to pay a toll. Less idling will also help to reduce pollution for a cleaner and greener environment."
In August 2017, Cuomo announced with great fanfare that open-road, cashless tolling would begin at the Grand Island toll barriers in March. Over past months, crews have installed two overhead gantries on the Niagara Thruway (I-190), one northbound and one southbound, which drivers will pass under to pay their tolls. Work also included the installation of concrete slabs that serve as the driving surface at the cashless tolling locations, as well as two additional secure structures that house equipment to operate the technology.
Overnight testing of the system will take place ahead of the March 29 activation date.
Commenting on the change, Thruway Authority Acting Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll said, "More than 20 million motorists who travel this vital connector each year will soon reap the benefits of cashless tolling, which eases congestion, improves safety and reduces air pollution. Cashless tolling will improve the travel experience for residents and tourists traveling to Buffalo, Niagara Falls and beyond."
Western New York's elected officials were upbeat on the debut of new cashless tolling system in the Buffalo region. The Grand Island bridges join the Tappan Zee bridge complex downstate as the only locations served by the cashless tolling system.
State Sen. Chris Jacobs said, "This community has fought for a long time for this day to come and I am thrilled that cashless tolling for the Grand Island bridges will be a reality by the end of the month. Cashless tolling will decrease traffic congestion on the bridges, help our environment, and spur economy activity. I thank the governor for his leadership on this issue."
Assemblyman Angelo Morinello said, "I believe the benefits of this change will be evident almost immediately. It will alleviate the backup at both the north and south bridges, so traffic will run more smoothly, it will save time travelling and will help reduce pollution on Grand Island and surrounding areas. I highly recommend everyone who uses the Grand Island bridges to consider E-ZPass if they do not already participate. We are all very excited to see this program come to fruition in the very near future."
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said, "Cashless tolling will add convenience and subtract time from the commutes of thousands of residents and will make travel easier and faster for visitors to Erie County, as well. No one wants to sit in traffic any longer than necessary and, now that vehicles no longer have to stop at the tolls, this initiative will create a better, quicker driving environment for all."
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said, "With more than 8 million visitors to the City of Niagara Falls every year, many of them traveling across Grand Island, the transition to cashless tolling will allow for a seamless and more environmentally friendly travel journey. As we grow closer to the 2018 tourist season, I want to commend Gov. Cuomo and our partners at the New York State Thruway Authority for an expeditious infrastructure investment that will only continue to enhance the visitor experience for years to come."
Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray said, "Faster, cleaner, better. Grand Island, and all of Western New York, is open for business. Thank you, Gov. Cuomo, for helping implement this cashless tolling technology. It's an important step for Western New York."
The Grand Island Bridges connect Grand Island on the Niagara Thruway (I-190) between Niagara Falls and the Town of Tonawanda. It is a main thoroughfare for commuters and visitors between the City of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. In 2017, approximately 23.5 million vehicles traveled through the Grand Island toll barriers, which translates to nearly 65,000 vehicles per day.
Once cashless tolling on Grand Island becomes operational, the Thruway Authority will begin removing the toll plazas at the North and South Grand Island Bridges in several phases, which will result in altered traffic patterns. For a short period of time, drivers will continue to travel through toll plazas at reduced speeds, without stopping, until the booths are removed and the road reconfiguration is completed. Drivers are strongly urged to use caution around the toll plazas during this time, as it will be an active construction zone.
As part of the transition to a more convenient way to travel New York's roadways, the Thruway Authority is encouraging all motorists to sign up for E-ZPass NY and save on tolls across the state, including a 5 percent discount along the entire 570-mile New York State Thruway. E-ZPass offers a variety of discount plans and payment options, including a Grand Island commuter plan.
Some motorists have expressed concern they'll no longer receive "Account Low" notices, which serve as a reminder of a low account balance.
In an email, New York State Thruway Authority Deputy Director of Media Relations and Communications Jonathan Dougherty said, "As with any method of electronic billing, we encourage E-ZPass customers to sign up for mobile alerts. When their account has a low balance they will be sent a text message. Additionally, E-ZPass offers a variety of discount plans
and payment options to fit the needs of every motorist. This includes 'pay per trip' which links your E-ZPass account to your checking account and pays all your E-ZPass tolls once per day, direct from your bank account. Drivers can also opt for the traditional auto-replenish.
The change-over to open-road cashless tolling at the Grand Island bridges will take place in phases. Pictured are temporary traffic patterns for the North Grand Island Bridge and for the South Grand Island Bridge. (Renderings provided by New York State thruway Authority)