BUFFALO, NY – On the heels of Governor Cuomo’s recent announcement that cashless tolls will be coming to the Grand Island Bridge toll plaza on the New York State Thruway, area lawmakers are now pushing to have them installed at other toll plazas in the Buffalo area.
U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins (D-South Buffalo) says both the technology and the money are in place to make that happen sooner than later.
Get With the Times
At a news conference, where he was joined by state and local lawmakers, Higgins noted that the Thruway Authority has already budgeted $750,000 in the coming year to rehabilitate Buffalo division toll booths.
He further believes the money would be wasted renovating current toll booths when it could be spent on installing cashless tolls.
“That money should be shifted immediately away from rehabilitation of plazas which will not even be necessary once cashless tolling is instituted, Higgins said.
Thruway: Not so Fast
In a statement, a Thruway Authority Spokesperson told WGRZ-TV, "As we have previously said, the goal is to move toward a cashless system along the entire Thruway, a project that will require significant investment and - unlike tolled bridges such as the ones in Grand Island - involves infrastructure alterations at the points of entry and exit along the Thruway. As the Congressman knows, this is something we are working toward and we are anxious to learn more about how the federal government is prepared to assist us.”
About those Federal Highway Dollars....
However, some believe a dispute between federal highway officials and the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo may imperil federal funding for NY highways, including for cashless tolls, after the feds ruled signs Cuomo had placed along the Thruway touting NY tourism were illegal.
Thus far, Cuomo's administration has refused to move them, despite being warned the signs, which cost taxpayers several million dollars -and which were produced by an Arkansas firm- are not in compliance with national standards.
Higgins is not worried about the dispute holding up federal funds, however.
What About the Workers?
In the meantime, data obtained by 2 On Your Side through a Freedom of Information Law request shows that the Thruway Authority paid nearly $30 million in wages to toll collectors, their supervisors, and others employed at toll booths along its entire system last year.
Asked if he expects resistance from the union representing those workers over potential job losses associated with cashless toll systems, Higgins replied, "there's always going to be resistance to change but cashless tolls are coming...my hope is that we could find a way to transition toll takers into other postilions within the Thruway Authority."
That might be a tall task indeed, as there are nearly 1,700 toll takers employed by the Thruway Authority, who face the probability of their jobs being eliminated with ever cashless toll system installed.