B U F F A L O N E W S
Hoyt, D-Buffalo, addressed 60 residents meeting in Grand Island Town Hall during a public forum on the condition of the bridges and the possibility of raising the toll for motorists who use them.
“This is far from a done deal,” Hoyt said. “It might be a trial balloon, just to see what the reaction is. I haven’t heard from anyone who thinks it’s a good idea.”
Russell Thompson of Grand Island doesn’t think so. He is leading an effort to eliminate the tolls at the bridges altogether.
“Getting rid of the tolls is the quickest way to eliminate congestion to getting on the island,” Thompson said.
Thompson already has collected more than 6,300 signatures on petitions calling for the elimination of tolls at the Grand Island bridges.
The Thruway Authority this week announced plans to increase tolls by 5 percent a year through 2011, for a 20 percent increase. Thruway Authority Buffalo Division Director Thomas Perciak, who was on hand for the meeting, said the authority’s consultants recommended toll hikes to offset lower- than-expected revenues.
“What they found, not only on the Thruway, but nationwide, is travel is down, and if travel is down that means less trips and less revenue. So when they looked at beyond 2008, they found that there were shortfalls in our budget. So the authority’s board has asked the staff to review various options to make up for the shortfall,” Perciak said.
He added that if there is a toll increase for the Grand Island bridges, island residents are not likely to suffer.
“Grand Island residents would probably be held harmless, but other commuter discounts are still on the table,” Perciak added.
Meanwhile, Perciak and a senior structural engineer attending the meeting, assured residents that the bridges are regularly inspected and no structural problems have been found at the two south bridges, though they acknowledged that there are some deficiencies on the north bridges that will be repaired.
A $12 million steel repair job was completed on the north bridges in 2004.
The authority also is planning a $30 million deck replacement on the northbound South Grand Island Bridge, Perciak said.
Grand Island resident Michael Beauchamp said he is concerned that beyond a fiveyear, $62 million capital improvement project, the authority has no longer-term plan to address the maintenance of the bridges over the next 20 to 30 years.
“Along with the Peace Bridge, we see how long everything takes in the Western New York area,” Beauchamp said, after leaving the meeting.
“You’ve got to start now to have something in place,” he added.