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Opposition to Grand Island tolls ramps up


When the last two tolls at Breckenridge and South Ogden were removed from the New York State Thruway in Buffalo, some wondered why tolls remain to cross the Grand Island bridges. Those opposing the tolls made their voices heard Wednesday night.

Every day, thousands of cars and trucks cross the Grand Island bridges, some going north, some south and some just on or off Grand Island. In the past, the southbound travelers would have paid a toll at Breckenridge and possibly also at South Ogden.

The last two tolls are gone, but the bridge tolls are still there, drawing opposition from Western New York for Grand Island Toll Barrier Removal. The group held a public meeting in Niagara Falls to talk about the issues and what to do.

"I have no agenda other than I'm sick and tired of getting stuck at the bridges and waiting in the tolls," said Co-Chair Brian Michel. "I just want to see something change there, anything. I'm not an elected official. I'm not partisan. I'm just your average Joe, trying to get back and forth from work to home in a timely fashion every day."

Michel says Grand Island residents are not the only ones who are angry.

"I myself am a resident of Lewiston, however, I've spent my whole lifetime commuting from downtown Buffalo to Niagara County for work," Michel said. "So it's not just a Grand Island issue, it affects the entire region. This is about the integration of the two most prominent economies in the area, Buffalo, NY and Niagara Falls."
Michel said the State Thruway Authority could absorb loss of the $20 million in tolls because Albany switched control and the $95 million annual subsidy of the state canal system to the State Power Authority, opening some room in the Thruway till. He suggested an alternative to the tolls.

"The first scenario which I think would be the most ideal if they transferred control from the New York State Thruway Authority to the New York State Department of Transportation," he said. "Funding for maintenance of the bridges could be taken out of the general fund that the the DOT has. That's funded by every motorist in the state who pays taxes on the gasoline they use to drive."

Michel said area politicians are jumping on the bandwagon to get rid of those tolls, familiar to any car or truck driver who slows or stops to pay.

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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