Citizens, politicians push to remove Grand Island tolls

GRAND ISLAND, N.Y. (WIVB) — Cars idle, waiting at the toll plazas, before paying their dollar to drive across the Grand Island bridges.

“It’s a log jam at the toll barriers,” Brian Michel, a Lewiston resident who works in Buffalo.  “You have to wait 15, 20, sometimes even 30 minutes just to dutifully pay your tolls to cross over the bridge.”

Driving over that bridge each day can add up.  Island residents and frequent traveler with EZPass receive a discount. Irregular drivers or those paying with cash pay a dollar.

“It’s a strain financially just as it is schedule wise,” said Michel. “It’s a headache.”

To try to alleviate that headache, Michel launched social media pages, garnering interest from people who wants the bridge tolls removed.  The idea is something Grand Island Supervisor, Nate McMurray, has been interested in for a while.

“This is upstate New York- a semi-rural community,” said McMurray.  “To have that toll here, to block anyone from coming in doesn’t make sense.”

The supervisor refers to the bridge as a barrier.

“It creates a roadblock in the center of the most important road in Western New York,” said the Independent supervisor.

The toll generates more than $20 million for the Thruway Authority. McMurray and Michel both say one of the major issues they have with the fee is that it doesn’t stay in the region.

“There’s an impression that this money is put into a pool; that it is earmarked for repairing the bridges but that isn’t happening,” said Michel. “Western New York is being left behind while down state is put before upstate.”

While McMurray does want the toll removed, he is taking a step back on his initial approach; before saying “tear down the tolls”; now he is saying, “Let’s look at other solutions for the tolls.”

McMurray and Michel will be part of a group holding a conference Friday morning at 8a.m. to discuss the plan of action they’ll be taking over the next few months to take the idea to Albany.

Some ideas include getting supporters to sign a petition, launching a GoFundMe page to put up billboards making people aware of where the toll money goes, and beginning community discussions, hearing feedback about proposals they can bring to the capitol.

The tolls have been in place for 80 years and the group hopes soon, people won’t pass by Grand Island after paying their dollar.

“Sometimes if something has been around for a long time, you need to look at it and rethink it,” said McMurray.

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