Grand Island’s high profile anti-tax activist Rus Thompson is slamming freshman State Senator Chris Jacobs. Not only does Jacobs want to keep the New York State Thruway tolls at both the North and South Grand Island Bridges, but he also wants the State to fund costly technology that will allow the state to levy the toll against your license plate electronically.
In a press release issued by his office, Jacobs attempts to brand the plan “cashless tolling.”
“I am really disappointed with Chris Jacobs… instead of spending untold tax dollars to give favorite contractors jobs for political payoffs, remove the tolls! There you have it: the simplest way to end this unfair tax on commuters, to end the pollution at the tolling areas and to stop the madness,” Thompson writes on social media.
“New York State collects tolls and federal road use taxes. No other state is allowed to do that. The excess money from the tolls goes in to the general fund in Albany to be spent. Every time the thruway needs to do work they have to get the money from the politicians. This is just insane,” he explains.
The Senator sees it differently.
“This technology is successfully utilized at more than 35 bridges, tunnels and toll roads across the United States and is used by the Thruway Authority at the Tappan Zee Bridge in downstate New York,” Jacobs said. “This technology will reduce traffic congestion, reduce air pollution and increase safety.”
But Thomspon, who has been mentioned as a contender for the 60th district State Senate seat since at least 2010, doesn’t buy Jacobs’ press release.
“This must be Cuomo using the Republicans in the Senate to calm the people down because he and [Empire State Development official Sam] Hoyt hate the toll fight,” he postulates. “Flanagan and the Senate Republicans are and have been in bed with Cuomo since he was elected. Wake up people.”
Jacobs is attempting to spin his position as ensuring that Western New York is treated equally with Downstate New York:
“The Thruway Authority maintains two bridge crossings in their system, Grand Island and Tappan Zee. This is another example of the unequal treatment Western New York receives as compared to the New York City area. Tappan Zee has cashless tolling, and it’s time to bring cashless tolling to Grand Island.”
The state claims that cashless tolling will allow motorists to pay their toll while maintaining highway speeds, allowing for the elimination of the toll plaza. The technology collects tolls via E-Z Pass. If a vehicle does not have E-Z Pass, cameras photograph the vehicle’s license plate as it passes under the overhead equipment.
“The Grand Island bridges are the only way Grand Island residents can get to and from their home. Alleviating congestion, reducing pollution and increasing safety will enhance their quality of life,” Jacobs said.
But Grand Island residents appreciate the toll booths, giving the island a sense of safety and ‘gatedness.’ Jacobs’ position infuriates many residents who see the plan as retaining an unnecessary and intrusive tax, while taking away the sense that Grand Island is somewhat protected from outside development and through traffic.
“Furthermore, the Grand Island bridges are a key connector between the tourist hubs of Niagara Falls and Buffalo. It is critical to explore ways to alleviate the bottleneck caused by congestion at the Grand Island bridges to encourage travel between these two population centers and further enhance our regional economy,” Jacobs adds.
One thing is most certain: a Republican cannot win the 60th district seat without strong turnout on Grand Island.
Jacobs’ relentlessly pro-development positions as it relates to the Island (including Cuomo’s call for a massive regional welcome center there), are putting the seat in play.
Thompson is a registered Democrat.