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Can license plate readers replace waits at toll booths?

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New York State agencies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get rid of the toll booths on roads, bridges and tunnels around New York City, while increasing security. Local leaders say, if they can do it there, why not here?

The New York City area is filled with toll booths and toll plazas. Vehicles stop to pay a toll or drivers use the quicker E-ZPass.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will spend $500 million over the next year to convert to automatic tolling for the 800,000 NYC vehicles using bridges and and tunnels. The new system will use E-ZPass and a system of license plate readers that will then send a toll bill to the vehicle's registered owners.

Buffalo Congressman Brian Higgins says that should be done here, especially on the Grand Island Bridges and at the Lackawanna and Williamsville toll barriers. Higgins says getting rid of the Niagara Section toll booths helped traffic.

"It's made a big difference and you have a situation where more people are using that stretch, where before, when there was the imposition of the toll, people were avoiding it," says Higgins. "And keep in mind, particularly with Lackawanna, a lot of people will take the Skyway as an alternative because they don't want to experience the delays at the Lackawanna toll booth."
 

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The Williamsville Toll Barrier on the I-90 can be a point of traffic congestion and vehicle fumes.

"We aren't getting a new site. We are not getting a relocation, at least not in my lifetime," says Williamsville Mayor Brian Kulpa. "Realistically, the modifications being made to the toll plaza now are about trying to cut the wait times and they are being done with a traditional-style toll plaza in mind, where someone has to act as a collector."

Kulpa says it won't be simple to get rid of the toll booths at every exit on the Thruway, but it might be relatively simple to get rid of stand-alone booths like those for the Grand Island bridges. In the meantime, he favors the electronic collections to cut the diesel fumes from trucks, as well as persuading other truck drivers to switch to the Thruway instead of traveling down Main Street spewing diesel fumes.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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