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Thread: Fight over toll barriers: Higgins lashes out

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2005

    Fight over toll barriers: Higgins lashes out

    Fight over toll barriers heating up

    Higgins lashes out, governor's aides respond

    News Political Reporter

    The skirmish between Rep. Brian Higgins and the Pataki administration over Niagara Thruway tolls erupted into full-scale battle Wednesday, with neither side showing any sign of retreat.

    Higgins' efforts to force removal of the Black Rock and Ogden barriers and their 75-cent tolls rose to a new level after the congressman said his staffer was denied access to Thruway Authority documents.

    "This is a direct violation of their public policy and of the public trust," Higgins said. "The question is: What are they hiding?"

    The standoff grew more pointed after the governor's spokesman disputed claims they have ignored Higgins' protests.

    In addition, two Republican state senators said the area's top Thruway priority remains relocating the Williamsville toll barrier on the mainline, with removal of Niagara Thruway tolls to be studied later.

    And to top it all off, Thruway Authority Executive Director Michael R. Fleischer tore into Higgins' rationale for removing the toll barriers. He said the congressman's contention that Niagara Thruway motorists are double-taxed through tolls and a $496 billion federal reimbursement program is not true.

    The state received only $600 million of that fund, he said, and the program was terminated after two years, with no funds directed toward the Thruway.

    "These illusory pots of money never materialized," he said. "The idea that we took this money and did not do what we're supposed to do is completely erroneous.

    "We're willing to have a public discussion about this, but it's got to be based on fact," he added.

    Though removal of Niagara Thruway tolls has entered local public debate for years, Higgins revived it in a big way on Monday by threatening to seek termination of federal funding for the Niagara Thruway unless the Thruway Authority moved to remove the tolls.

    He stuck to that position on Wednesday, calling the state's attitude "bureaucratic and duplicitous," stemming from an "arrogant public authority that is not considering the communities they are supposed to assist."

    Higgins maintains that $193 million in federal funds was directed toward the 21-mile roadway over the last 30 years. Since that fund is fed by federal gasoline taxes, he maintains commuters face a double whammy every time they pay their 75 cents.

    "What's happened here is that they justify tolls to underwrite the capital costs in the creation and maintenance of these roads," he said. "They're so addicted to these revenues that after their [bond] obligations are met, they continue the tolls."

    In addition, the congressman said motorists in other major cities are not forced to pay tolls on their commuter routes, that tolls artificially inflate traffic levels on roads like Route 5 at a time when the Skyway should be replaced, and that tolls are hurting development in downtown Buffalo.

    "In this instance, the tolls are financing non-toll roads in more affluent parts of the state, or worse, functions that have nothing to do with the Thruway, like the Canal Corporation," Higgins said.

    But Fleischer said commuters in Syracuse, Schenectady and Albany, and around Yonkers and New Rochelle all pay tolls when commuting on a daily basis. More than 100,000 drivers per day pay a toll to cross the Hudson River on the Tappan Zee Bridge, he added.
    That's not all of the story .... read on

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    In all the years I lived downstate, I can't even guess how few times I had to pay a toll while traveling from my apartment in North White Plains all the way down through the Bronx. There are so many alternate routes .. parkways and expressways ... that it isn't even necessary to travel the thruway.

    Go here to compare the number of tolls in the Buffalo area and the number of tolls in Syracuse, Schenectady, Albany, and around Yonkers and New Rochelle.

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