Cashless tolls were supposed to reduce traffic, but are they working?

Posted at 6:19 PM, Jul 19, 2018

When the Grand Island bridges transitioned to cashless tolls in March, one of the stated goals was to reduce traffic and congestion.

Four months later, it is still common for drivers to find themselves in a traffic jam on their way home from work.

“I’m pleased with the speed at which the deconstruction and construction of new toll barriers has moved along, but I’m disappointed with the speed traffic is actually flowing at,” Brian Michel said.

Michel helped lead the public campaign to remove the Grand Island toll barriers. He pointed to success downstate had seen in improving traffic with cashless tolls, but admits Western New York has not had the same luck.

“Up here I think we have something that’s a little bit different in that we have two major arteries of traffic merging into two lanes and I think we’re at a good point today to assess the effectiveness of it,” he said.

That “pinch point”, as it is referred to by the Thruway Authority, is one of the big reasons the 190 North heading into Grand Island can often be backed up during peak hours.

NYS Thruway Authority Spokesman Dick Keane points to volume as the main problem. So many cars trying to merge into two lanes for the bridge. Drivers from the 290, Sheridan Drive and River Road all merge with traffic on the 190 North. All the drivers merge within roughly a mile of the south Grand Island bridge.

Traffic models of cashless tolls, done before the project started, indicated they should decrease congestion and traffic issues for commuters over the bridge.

The Thruway Authority closely monitors traffic in this stretch. Keane said engineers study traffic patterns daily and notes that the time it takes to get onto Grand Island has not gone up, but it also hasn’t gone down.

When traffic is backed up, it generally takes about five minutes to get from the 290 merge over the bridge, according to the authority. Michel still appreciates the changes made to the Grand Island tolls and hopes the authority makes improvements to help reduce traffic and congestion going forward.

“The process is in its infancy,” Michel said. “Sometimes change isn’t perfect when it’s rolled out. I’d say, myself as a commuter, I’ve been disappointed with it. I think the Thruway Authority could have done a better job planning it and it should have. I can’t believe I’m still stuck in traffic staring at tail lights at the end of the night.”

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