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Thruway won't have cashless tolling anytime soon
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Governor Cuomo says New Yorkers who use the state Thruway will have a bit of a wait before more cashless tolling is installed on the nearly 500 mile tolled portion of the road.

The Cuomo Administration’s Thruway Authority has adopted cashless tolls at the new Tappan Zee Bridge and will take down the toll booths on the Grand Island Bridge in the Buffalo Niagara Falls area early next year. There is already an option for cashless tolling at the Woodbury exit of the Thruway in the lower Hudson Valley, although toll booths still exist as an alternative.

Cuomo says he supports expanding cashless tolling, in theory.

“I would do it all tomorrow, if I could,” Cuomo said at an unrelated event in Niagara Falls on Thursday.  

But the governor says it will be a while before the entire Thruway gets rid of its toll booths. He admits that New York is behind many other states, including neighboring states like Massachusetts, where all toll booths have been removed from the Massachusetts Turnpike. Cuomo says there’s been a “culture of resistance” to move to the new technology.  And he says he expects the toll booth operators union to be against it. But he also acknowledges getting rid of the barriers costs money.

“It is a very, very expensive operation to make that transition,” said Cuomo, who said the gantries, the poles that hold the electronic monitors, and cameras and related software is “millions of dollars per application”.

But he saves the system would “save money over the long run”.

Greg Biryla, with Unshackle Upstate, a business group, says there are pros and cons to removing the toll booths. He says the Thruway is the “economic lifeline” of many communities.

“There’s certainly advantages in being able to move people goods and services across the Thruway cheaper and more efficiently,” Biryla said. “Cashless tolling, limiting commute times, would certainly benefit industries that are heavy in shipping and that operate between upstate cities.”

But he agrees with Cuomo that the initial expense of removing the tolls booths is a legitimate concern.

“The governor is also right to be concerned about the costs,” Biryla said. “That’s primarily because the Thruway Authority has historically been very opaque about their costs.”

He says raising tolls would hurt businesses who rely on the road.

Biryla says cashless tolling is the way of the future though. Several major bridges in New York City, operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, no longer have toll barriers and have adopted cashless tolling.

Tolls on the Thruway, built in the 1950’s, were supposed to end in 1996.  But state leaders at the time decided to keep it a tolled highway. Biryla says it’s unfortunate that today’s politicians don’t even discuss whether the tolls should end.

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” said Biryla who said the tolls were supposed to end once the construction bonds were paid off.

 “Rather than seeing them cease, we’ve seen Thruway tolls go up incrementally over the years,” he said.

Current toll rates are frozen until 2020. Governor Cuomo has not said whether the rates will go up after that.