Griffo seeks to steer discussion on Thruway tolling concerns

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UTICA — With construction of the electronic gantries nearly ready for scheduled late fall changeover to cashless tolling on the New York State Thruway, State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-47, Rome, is trying to drive home concerns on the impending switch.

Griffo said the concerns stem from phone calls received constituents as well as recent Thruway spokesperson media accounts.

According to the Thruway Authority, the $355 million project is part of efforts to modernizing the 570-mile transportation system. The project, the Thruway Authority says, reduces congestion, improves traffic flow, is better for the environment, and allows for non-stop travel on New York’s toll roads, bridges and tunnels.

Some existing toll plazas and barriers have been removed and the overhead structures which house sensors,
cameras and other equipment — called gantries — have been erected at interchanges and other locations along the state’s Thruway system, including Thruway Exit 33 in Verona, just past the existing toll booths.

The equipment reads E-ZPass tags and captures license plate images. With this technology in place, motorists will no longer be required to stop to pay tolls because the sensors and cameras suspended over the highway will read each license plate and mail a toll bill to that vehicle’s registered owner.

“In the past, I have asked the governor and Thruway Authority to explore the option of expanding automatic ‘open road tolling’ to some of the more heavily trafficked areas upstate because I understand the importance of having transportation infrastructure that can move people efficiently and effectively,” Griffo said.

“While this most recent venture will help us to accomplish this objective, a number of legitimate concerns and questions have been raised about this project that I believe require a more thorough explanation,” he said.

“It is imperative that we make sure that this and other projects function as intended, are not financial albatrosses for the state and do not cause unnecessary burdens and hardships for New York’s residents and visitors.”

Griffo said he is concerned about the potential for the cameras and sensors to be used as speed control devices and to track the movement of motorists; about why non-E-ZPass users being charged more than E-ZPass users; and about the need for more gantries than there are current exits/interchanges.

There are 52 interchanges on the Thruway but 70 gantries have been installed throughout the highway system, Griffo said, asking “Why are so many gantries needed?

According to a media release issued by the authority in August, the installation of gantries at the entrance/exit ramp tolling locations “was completed on time and on budget and is part of the first phase of the project to convert the Thruway to cashless tolling.”

Additionally, the release adds that when “cashless tolling is operational on the Thruway’s ticketed system and all toll booths are removed, motorists will drive seamlessly under gantries so vehicles no longer have to stop to pay tolls. Vehicles with E-ZPass tags are automatically charged and vehicles without E-ZPass tags will have their license plate image captured and a toll bill mailed to the registered owner.”

Industry officials say the higher rate reflects the additional cost of mailing bills to, and collecting fees from, non E-ZPass users. Those who fail to pay their bills may be subject to late fees, toll violation fees and other penalties, including potential suspension of vehicle registration.

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