Long-debated plans to make improvements at the Thruway's traffic-clogged Williamsville toll barrier are expected to move forward in the near future.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced that his office has approved an $8 million project that will help finance operational improvements at a toll barrier that has caused traffic migraines for decades.
Thruway officials referred comments to Williamsville Mayor Brian Kulpa, who has been prodding state transportation experts to find solutions to the traffic woes.
Kulpa told WBFO News one of the major changes will involve E-ZPass lanes that will allow vehicles to move through the toll barrier at 20 miles per hour -- four times faster than the current posted speed. Kulpa said the change won't exactly allow "high-speed" passage, but he believes it should help ease some congestion.
"Our local version [of high-speed] is 20 miles an hour. They can read those cards up to 55, so hopefully one day we'll be at those points," Kulpa said.
Other expected improvements include a widening of the lane structure at the toll plaza and the creation of a special lane for commercial traffic.
Kulpa said persistent traffic tie-ups at the toll barrier have spurred many motorists to avoid the Thruway by driving on Main Street in Williamsville, causing congestion in the village.
For many years, some officials in the northtowns have pushed to have the toll barrier relocated east of its current location. The Thruway Authority has resisted these efforts, announcing instead plans to spend as much as $15 million in "operational improvements" at the site.
"If you've driven through the toll plaza, you can tell it's not functioning correctly right now," Kulpa said.
Thruway officials have told local leaders that the planned changes should ease traffic problems at the toll plaza by about 90 percent, Kulpa said. Is the mayor confident that the project will live up this expectation?
"I'm not a traffic expert," Kulpa replied, but he added that he doesn't believe things could get any worse at the toll barrier.
The timeline for beginning the first phases of the project was unclear, but Kulpa said he's hoping work will begin soon.
"We've got to get improvements made," he said.