Buffalo is Only Upstate Urban Area Subject to Tolls—State’s Weakest Economy Unfairly Forced to Subsidize Roadways in Other Regions
Buffalo, NY—In a letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) today, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) called for assistance on the part of the federal government in removing the tolls on Interstate 190 in Buffalo.
“This is a matter of simple fairness – Buffalo commuters have supported New York’s roadways for far too long, and it’s high time that the Federal Highway Administration takes a second look at these agreements,” said Higgins.
In his letter, Higgins specifically requested review of the 1992 Toll Facility Agreement between FHWA, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), and the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA). The Agreement permits tolls to be collected on I-190 in Erie County, New York. Higgins wrote that a review of the Agreement will conclude that it must be amended in light of New York State law, current economic conditions, and common notions of fairness.
“Buffalo is the only upstate urban area in New York where commuters are forced to pay tolls to go to work or to drive home,” said Higgins. “Tolls are not collected on interstate highways serving other upstate areas like Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Binghamton, or Albany, and the Thruway Authority’s practice of forcing the weakest economy in New York State to subsidize other portions of New York’s Interstate system is unfair and, I believe, contrary to transportation agreements forged between the federal government and New York State,” Higgins added.
In 1968 the State of New York enacted the Niagara Toll Removal Act, a legislative mandate to remove toll barriers from I-190 once sufficient toll revenue had been collected to reimburse the State for the cost of the Thruway’s construction. The spirit of this agreement was subsequently codified in the 1982 Toll Facility Agreement, which made the Thruway eligible for federal highway funding under the condition that NYSTA remove toll barriers upon the discharge of its debt from then-outstanding bonds. That debt was discharged in 1996; but for the 1992 amendment to the Agreement, the tolls should have been removed at that time.
The 1991 federal legislation allowed for the continued operation of tolls on I-190 beyond the 1996 date called for in the 1982 Agreement. The 1992 Toll Facility Agreement formalized this development, however it did not take into account the spirit of the 1968 Niagara Toll Removal Act, which was, and still is, on the books and demands that the tolls be removed now that the State has been compensated for construction of the Thruway.
“As Buffalo continues to strive to emerge from the economic doldrums that have plagued our region for years, the continued imposition of what amounts to a vehicular commuter tax upon personal and commercial vehicles only serves to further discourage economic activity in the city’s downtown corridor,” said Higgins.
Higgins concluded, “The 1992 Agreement must be reexamined in consideration of whether it comports with basic notions of fairness. The toll barriers create an impediment to economic development in Buffalo by discouraging employers to locate downtown, lest customers and employees be burdened with tolls. This is unconscionable given the current economic conditions in Buffalo. We need to stop the barriers which deter the growth of our City’s workforce and prevent a boon in our development.”