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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Road rage

The New York State Thruway Authority announced on Thursday that it now plans to increase tolls not once, but three times in the coming years – once in 2008, once in 2009 and once in 2010. When all is said and done, the cash rate for a car driving from end to end of the highway (New York City to Buffalo) will be $18.36, while the rate for people using E-ZPass will be $17.58. (And you should double those numbers, of course, if you also plan to drive home.)

The authority’s reasoning for the ripoff? Rapidly rising gas prices are limiting travel, resulting in a loss of the toll revenue that’s needed to pay for maintenance of the superhighway.

But wait a second. If use of the Thruway is falling, then so is the wear and tear on the road, thus reducing the need for maintenance. That means the road can be maintained for less money than in the past. So, naturally, the authority raises our tolls.

My suggestion to travelers – and my own plan for future driving – is to stay off the Thruway altogether whenever possible. If you’re heading north or south from Kingston, Route 9 or Route 9W will get where you’re going almost as fast as the Thruway, and at no cost. And if you need to go west from Albany, take Route 5 or Route 20. They’re both nice roads on which you can drive at 55 mph most of the way, slowing down only occasionally to pass through a few charming small towns that you may be glad to discover.

I mean, seriously, $36.72 to drive round-trip from New York City to Buffalo? When I was in college in Buffalo in the early 1980s, there was an airline called People’s Express that offered round-trip flights between Buffalo and New York for $38. The time aloft between the two cities was just a little over an hour, there were no traffic slowdowns, and you didn’t feel fleeced at the end of the trip.

But fleeced is exactly what I feel when I drive on the Thruway – especially considering that its tolls were supposed to be eliminated altogether in 1996.



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