Buffalo now has only phantom tollbooths

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The New York Thruway Authority recently voted to stop collecting tolls in Buffalo, which had been the only town with Thruway tollbooths within its city limits.

Developer Carl Paladino had filed a lawsuit to end the tolls, which for a five-axle truck had cost $4.25. He argued that the tolls had become illegal under state law in 1996, when the federal government reimbursed the Thruway for the cost of the decades-old tollbooths.

No plans exist to remove further Thruway tolls, said Thruway spokesman Patrick Noonan. Besides the lawsuit, a factor in the Thruway’s decision was the state Senate’s pledge to cover one year’s lost revenues from the tolls, or $14 million.

The authority also voted Monday, Oct. 30, to give the state Department of Transportation one year’s notice of its intent to return the maintenance and operation of Interstate 84 back to the state. This 71-mile stretch costs an annual $14 million to maintain.

The authority’s vote was greeted with cheers by a crowd of anti-toll politicians waiting with champagne at the Buffalo tollbooths, which were closed within minutes. The tollbooth speed limit will be enforced, however, until the booths are razed.

Amid the celebration, Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde asked his readers: “Why did it take a private citizen to end the tolls that pickpocketed us of millions of dollars over the years, when we pay a horde of politicians — and their staffs — to supposedly watch our backs?”