Federal Funding Backs Up Argument for Toll Removal
BUFFALO, NY - Today, Monday, April 3, 2006, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) announced new steps he is taking to challenge the New York State Thruway Authority’s imposition of tolls along the Niagara Section of Interstate 190.
In a letter to Governor George Pataki and Thruway Authority Chairman John Buono, Congressman Higgins calls the collection of tolls in the Buffalo section of the Thruway illegal, immoral and inequitable. The Congressman asks State officials to justify toll collection or take immediate action to remove the Niagara Section tolls.
“We have a unique situation here in Buffalo where local residents are made to carry the burden of a commuter tax that is reinvested into other parts of the state,” said Congressman Higgins, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “We hope the Governor and this public authority can recognize the injustice placed on Western New Yorkers and do right by this community, otherwise I am prepared to find alternate ways to see that federal transportation funding slated for the NYS thruway system is more appropriately invested.”
Erie County Clerk David J. Swarts, who has led the local fight to remove tolls on the I-190, said that the Higgins' strategy adds new weight to what is already a compelling argument in support of removing these tolls. "Brian is known for tackling the tough issues, and his clout will go far in eliminating this inequity now borne by local commuters," said Swarts.
Congressman Higgins noted that $193,878,902 in federal aid has been used to construct and maintain portions of the Niagara Section of the I-190 over the last thirty years alone. Consequently, Buffalo residents pay for I-190 twice: once through the tolls they pay every day, and again through the federal gas tax that funds federal highway programs.
“Approximately $11 million is collected at the Niagara tolls each year,” said Erie County Legislator Timothy M. Kennedy, Chair of the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee. “This money isn’t reinvested in infrastructure in Erie County, it’s used to subsidize projects in Westchester and other counties where commuters travel toll free.”
Higgins also asserts that federal legislation in 1991 which provided $4.89 billion to compensate the State for financing the Thruway construction fulfils the requirements in the 1968 Niagara Toll Removal Act, legislation mandating removal of toll barriers from the Niagara Section upon the receipt of federal reimbursement.
"People should not have to pay for the right to enter the City of Buffalo. It is an absolute disincentive," said Senator Marc Coppola. "The removal of these tolls will encourage commuters who travel daily within the Buffalo area to use the Thruway rather than secondary roads by eliminating the unfair burden of paying to travel within the region. The Thruway Authority should be encouraging travel into and around the City, not hindering it."
“I am pleased that Congressman Higgins is joining in our efforts to eliminate these tolls,” added Assemblymember Sam Hoyt. “The tolls are essentially an admission fee to enter the city of Buffalo, and are an undue burden for commuters and visitors alike, and we appreciate the Congressman’s support for our ongoing effort to remove them.”