Seneca Nation may install tolls along I-90 to solve road dispute with Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed to compensate the Seneca Nation for hundreds of millions of dollars in back tolls, which may necessitate the need for physical toll booths to accommodate collections.

It is well established in federal law that Indian Tribes exercise civil regulatory jurisdiction over roadways that traverse sovereign reservation lands.

Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s administration has long ignored necessary Thruway repairs along the Interstate 90 as it traverses the Seneca Nation’s Cattaraugus Territory.  The deteriorating conditions along the roadway pose a danger to public safety.  A similar dispute brewed for years along Interstate 86, where it traverses the Nation’s Allegany Territory.  Both roadways are heavily traveled trucking routes between the midwest and east coast.

Now the Seneca Tribal Council is being encouraged to exercise eminent domain in revoking the easement that allows both roadways to operate on sovereign land.  Doing so would allow the Nation to construct toll booths and large commercial service plazas — equipped with gasoline retailers, restauranteurs, two-star hotels, and truck-related services —  along the lucrative highways.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo admits publicly that he is refusing to proceed with badly needed highway improvements to I-90 because of his administration’s long-standing disputes with the Seneca Nation of Indians. Cuomo signed a Compact with the Nation that ended casino revenue sharing with the State in 2014.  Cuomo said that he didn’t read the agreement before signing it, and on that logic, Cuomo insists that the Senecas should continue making payment to the State.

By assuming responsibility for the roadway, the Seneca Nation would assume responsibility for maintaining the roadway.  There’s little doubt that a toll would generate many times more money than the road’s maintenance cost over time — with or without eventual access to federal highway monies generated by the gasoline tax (which would require considerable intergovernmental affairs work to secure from the Federal Highway Administration).

With the Senecas maintaining the road with their own Highway Department, they will be able to address repair needs immediately, without having to engage with the State’s slow-moving bureaucracy.

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A Seneca Nation toll booth would likely charge $2 for a passenger vehicle, and $5 for a commercial vehicle, in each direction.  Depending on final pricing, revenue projections range from $53 million to $146 million annually at the Irving location.
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Traffic is lighter along I-86, which might generate between $20 million and $30 million in toll revenue.  The roadway occupies a nearly 20-mile long easement inside the Seneca Nation.  The community sees the roadway as an under-tapped economic development engine.  That economic opportunity, they argue, is being ‘intentionally squashed by a vengeful and calculating Governor.’

Truck drivers traveling along both roadways are a key target market for Seneca One Stop‘s growth strategy.  By providing all the accommodations, food, and entertainment amenities that a truck driver might need, with gaming options nearby, the Nation could monetize the roadway in a way that is doesn’t today.

The strategy could also generate hundreds of jobs on both reservations, and the influx of cash from the toll receipts could improve the Nation’s liquidity position and jumpstart the Seneca economy.

7 Comments

  1. The Thruway then better give us a discount for driving on it, since we’ve been paying a toll to drive on a chunk of road they don’t own and are not maintaining. I have no problem with the Senecas, and a big problem with NYS taking money for a specified purpose and then not doing it. This is only one example by the way.

  2. How long has the Thruway been there, and now the Seneca s want to press the issue, I think it’s time the state shut all access down to there casinos, it’s give a little both ways !!

    • Sounds like you don’t know what your talking about. The people will find a way to come gamble . How you guys gonna pay to keep watch so people can’t access our casinos?

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