The Williamsville Tolls Are Nobody’s Golden Goose

They’ve been talking about and doing the inevitable, repetitive “studies” to determine how, when, and where they might move the Williamsville toll plaza a bit further East and possibly upgrade the facility to work better. We are still using 1920s technology in 2013 – we actually hire human beings to take toll tickets from a dispenser and hand them  to non-transponder motorists. Is there some compelling reason why we need to pay someone 50 large to act as a middleman between the ticket dispenser and you? Except for job #1 being “don’t kill the job”, no.

Frankly, the upgrades the Thruway Authority is planning, suck. “Could possibly include 35-mph E-ZPass toll lanes to to cut down on traffic jams” is the Thruway Authority taking a pointed stick and jamming it in your eye. 35 MPH?

There are massive flaws with the existing Williamsville tolls. Firstly, for some reason upstate toll plazas do not adhere to the downstate toll plaza rule that commercial trucks stay to the right and leave the E-ZPass lanes towards the left for car traffic. Secondly, we have absolutely zero number of high-speed E-ZPass plazas here, and it doesn’t sound like we’re going to get any.  35 MPH is not high-speed; it is well below regular highway speeds.  Your E-ZPass and license plate are perfectly capable of being read at regular highway speeds. In Florida, they make non-transponder traffic pull to a plaza on the side of the road while transponder traffic just keeps moving at 65 MPH. The 407 in Toronto has no toll plazas at all – it takes a picture of your plate and sends you a bill.

Florida

 

Toronto’s 407 uses the Ferrovial “Free Flow” toll collection system

Thirdly, if the plaza was re-made to accommodate high-speed transponder traffic, you eliminate a lot of noise and pollution from idling vehicles, and you can move the plaza further east to not only enlarge the toll-free commuter area for Buffalo, but also to alleviate Main Street traffic and put the plaza somewhere in the middle of nowhere farmland to minimize NIMBYism.

The Clarence town board debated the issue this week, and Supervisor David Hartzell voted against a resolution in favor of moving the plaza East. He explained that the toll plaza is,

the town’s “golden goose,” because of the traffic it drives there. Take away the barrier, he said, and “Transit Road would just dry up.”

That’s nonsense. Pembroke is within the toll area, and Route 77 isn’t some five-lane juggernaut of strip plazas and Wal*Marts. Transit Road isn’t what it is today because of the location of a toll barrier in Williamsville. On the contrary, Main Street in Williamsville is the mess it is today because of the toll barrier – people use Main Street to avoid the barrier, which backs up much more often and worse than exit 49 at Transit. Bernie Kolber has it right, but only partly.

The present location of the Williamsville toll barrier hinders economic activity, wastes travelers’ time, wastes fuel, adds to traffic congestion on adjacent roads, decreases efficiency of travel, contributes to air pollution and in general detracts from the quality of life of suburban residents,” he said, arguing that improving the current barrier won’t solve those problems.

You need to do both. If the Thruway insists on maintaining tolls on a road that was supposed to be toll-free when it was paid off in 1997, then it needs to do so in a way that is most beneficial to motorists. Furthermore, it should move the toll barrier back from Williamsville to somewhere between exits 48A and 49. There is plenty of emptiness in that stretch to minimize difficulty for nearby residents. Hell, you could put it near the quarry between Gunnville and Harris Hill Roads – if Buffalo Crushed Stone doesn’t bother you, neither will a state-of-the-art high-speed (not 35 MPH, but 65 MPH) toll plaza.

Then trucks and other traffic coming from points east will more readily use the Thruway to access the 290 and 33, and alleviate the through traffic now congesting Main Street in Williamsville, which is planning traffic calming and other measures to render that ugly five-lane mess something more pedestrian-friendly.

Or maybe we can just pretend it’s still 1965, and hire state workers to make us stop so they can hold our E-ZPasses up to the windshield for us before we pass through.

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