The toll booths that have greeted motorists at the north and south Grand Island bridges for decades will be coming down early next year. But tolls will still be collected through an electronic cashless system.
Governor Andrew Cuomo visited Grand Island to help celebrate the announcement. But it was Matt Driscoll, whom Cuomo announced is the new executive director of the Thruway Authority, who made the formal announcement that the toll booths will soon come down.
Next March, the booths from which people have collected cash will be replaced by gantries from which scanners and cameras will be fixed. Motorists will simply drive under them as they continue on their way.
"It reads the car license plate or EZ Pass at virtually any speed," said Driscoll. "For non-EZ Pass vehicles, a camera records the license plate and a bill is mailed to the registration of the vehicle owner."
For Brian Michel of WNY for GI Toll Barrier Removal, this was a day he has long awaited. But it's a day he was confident would eventually come.
"This represents not just an announcement but it signals but it signals a generational change here," said Michel. "Our children and our grandchildren are not going to have to know the misery and the pain of sitting stuck at the tolls on Grand Island."
Officials estimate that commuters will save more than 200 minutes of travel time per year. Driscoll said "time is money," and he and other leaders believe the removal of toll booths will speed up not only traffic but economic activity both in Grand Island and in surrounding communities.
"It's an immense amount of money that's circulating in our economy and we hope that's going to happen on the broader regional economic development we're seeing here," said State Senator Chris Jacobs. "This is not just about Grand Island. It's not just about the bridge. It's a significant benefit to Grand Island but this a regional economic development step in the right direction."
One concern raised by some is where proceeds will go. Senator Jacobs announced he is sponsoring legislation to ensure Western New York gets a cut of the proceeds. He calls it an "impact fee."
State officials also announced plans to construct a Welcome Center on Grand Island, along the 190, that will provide visitors information about things to do in the region, as well as present some local history.