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Traffic increases to record high

By John F. Bonfatti
Updated: 01/10/08 6:49 AM

If it seems like you’ve got more company as you drive the highways of Western New York, you’re right.

Dramatic increases in traffic along the Niagara Thruway have occurred following the removal of Buffalo’s Breckenridge and Ogden toll barriers, according to statistics released Wednesday by a regional transportation planning organization.

And overall, the statistics show vehicle miles traveled in Erie and Niagara counties have reached an all-time high, increasing 8.5 percent from 2000 to 2006.

“That’s contrary to the trend in the Northeast, where [vehicle miles traveled] have been flat or down slightly,” according to Stephen Szopinski, an analyst with the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

The elimination of tolls along the Niagara Thruway in October 2006 has been followed by an impressive increase in traffic on the road, according to the study, which used data collected from monitors the Thruway Authority has imbedded in the roadway.

Traffic is up 29 percent where the Ogden booth used to be and 27 percent where the Breckenridge barrier once stood.

The statistics for certain segments helped accent sturdy weekday traffic growth all along the Niagara Thruway.

The increase between Ogden Street and Clinton Street was 26 percent, while the next segment, between Clinton and Seneca Street, was up 24.7 percent.

It was up 21.2 percent between the Elm/Oak and Hamburg/ Louisiana exits, 18.7 percent between Hamburg/Louisiana and Smith Street and 18.5 percent between Niagara Street and the Peace Bridge.

North of Buffalo on the I- 190, traffic was up 16.1 percent between Sheridan Drive and the Youngmann Highway.

The analysis showed a lot more cars and trucks on just about every major road in the area, but the numbers from some areas were eye-catching. Since the tolls were eliminated:

• Weekday travel on the mainline Thruway between the Youngmann Highway and Kensington Expressway is up 22.5 percent, and the average 148,100 vehicles that now travel that segment of road on a weekday is the highest traffic volume in the state outside of metropolitan New York City.

• Vehicle miles traveled along the section of the Thruway from the Lackawanna toll barrier to the Youngmann are up 10.7 percent.

• I-190 traffic on Grand Island is up 20.3 percent.

• Traffic on I-190 between the Peace Bridge and the Scajaquada Expressway is up 27.1 percent.

• Average weekday traffic on the Skyway is up 6.7 percent, to nearly 44,000 vehicles.

Traffic has dropped off noticeably on one road, the Scajaquada Expressway.

Weekday traffic is down 18.7 percent from Main Street to Delaware Avenue and 3.5 percent between Delaware and the I-190.

A further breakdown of those numbers showed westbound traffic between Main Street and Delaware dropping 24.4 percent, while eastbound traffic between I-190 and Delaware was down 15.1 percent.

The eastbound drop, Szopinski believes, “can be directly attributable to people who used to use the Scajaquada to avoid the [Breckenridge] toll.”

Szopinski said that, for the first time, weekday traffic on Elmwood Avenue near the Scajaquada exceeded that of the same stretch on Delaware Avenue. Elmwood traffic in the area was up 12.9 percent, while Delaware was down 10.8 percent.

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to beleaguered Williamsville-area motorists to know that traffic on Main Street near the Youngmann Highway jumped 18.8 percent.

International bridge traffic was up a modest 2.7 percent from 2005 to 2007, according to traffic data supplied by the Peace Bridge Authority and Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.

The Peace Bridge showed a 4.3 percent increase in average daily traffic in the past year, to 18,200 vehicles, but that’s down from 22,100 in 2002.

Still, truck traffic on the bridge was up significantly in the past year, 9.3 percent, to 3,600 a day. Traffic on the Lewiston- Queenston and Rainbow bridges in Niagara County was down 1.7 percent in the past year.

Szopinski said additional analysis of traffic on secondary and arterial roads is needed to help understand more about how and why traffic patterns are changing here.