What stood as fixtures along the New York State Thruway for six decades are gradually coming down. Crews began removing the toll booths from the Williamsville barrier Monday morning, and they got a visit from state leaders happy to see them go.
Over the weekend, the Thruway officially switched to its new cashless system, utilizing scanners fixed on gantries which record the passing vehicles beneath for purposes of charging a toll. The scanners either detect the vehicle's E-ZPass and charge that account, or capture an image of the license plate. The owner of that vehicle is sent a bill by mail at a later date.
"This is a long time coming," said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who came to the Williamsville toll barrier to mark the removal of its booths.
"I was overjoyed to be here today to pick up a sledgehammer and to start the process of removing these tolls," she said. "It will give commuters something that's precious: time back in their lives."
Proponents of the transition to the cashless system say it will end the backups along this portion of the Thruway and, with it, eliminate the buildup of auto emissions which pose a health risk to nearby homes.
Amherst Town Supervisor Brian Kulpa, in a phone interview with WBFO, said he lives not far from the longtime toll station. He said you could hear the trucks idling in the morning and smell the diesel fumes in the air.
"But moreover, it disproportionately put commuter vehicle volume onto Main Street," Kulpa said. "While we're not going to expect to see an enormous reduction, there will be some reduction on Main Street vehicle volume, because people going from the 290 out to Transit Road now will find a much easier time taking the mainline 90 than they will Route 5."
The Williamsville barriers and nearby Lackawanna toll booths are among six high-volume interchanges that will be the first to come down in the Thruway Authority's dismantling plan. Other stations will follow over the next several months.
"The last 60 years, these tolls have represented more than just a place to collect money. They are a physical barrier. They're a psychological barrier," Hochul said, "and the removal of them is going to open up our highway and make it more available for commuters to travel without hassles."
Hochul joined State Sen. Tim Kennedy and Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew Driscoll at the Williamsville barrier. Driscoll says about three quarters of the Thruway system's customer base uses E-ZPass. He says those who currently do not have an account should get one, because beginning in January, it will become the less expensive of the two billing alternatives.
"You will see a 30% increase in the toll-by-mail rate in 2021," he said.