Assembly Votes to End I-95 Toll on Larchmont Border

by Judy Silberstein

(June 5, 2008) Is the I-95 toll booth on Larchmont’s border headed for extinction? Could be, according to NY Assemblyman George Latimer, who reported that his bill to eliminate the New Rochelle toll passed the Assembly by 81-46 on June 2. The bill must still go to the Senate, where Senator Suzi Oppenheimer is the sponsor, and then it has to be signed by the governor.

Assemblyman Latimer cited traffic and pollution as reasons to kill the toll. “The toll booths are a source of heavy traffic on I-95,” he stated. “Routinely, the traffic spills over into the New Rochelle, Larchmont and Mamaroneck communities, as truckers and drivers attempt to avoid the toll booth back-up.”

He called the air quality in adjacent neighborhoods “simply atrocious” and the noise “equally bothersome.” He pointed out that the fee – now set at $1.50 – is the highest toll for the shortest distance (other than for bridges) along the New England Thruway. Savvy drivers know to detour through Larchmont to get to New Rochelle without paying the toll, which adds to congestion and pollution on Chatsworth and Palmer Avenues.

A number of residents reached out to Mr. Latimer on the toll booth issue. One was June Hessler, assistant director of the Larchmont Library, who lived for 17 years on Palmer Avenue right behind the tolls. “I used to always carry tissues – I always had a runny nose in the spring when I began sleeping with my windows open,” she said. “I realized that living next to the toll booth was obviously affecting my respiratory system. If I hadn’t moved away, I would not have noticed.”

But what about the money?

Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Valerie O'Keeffe is among those concerned about the financial equation.

"I think it's a pain in the neck to pay the tolls," said Ms. O'Keeffe, "but the NY Thruway Authority needs the money. If Albany would relieve the Thruway Authority of its extraneous burdens (like owning and maintaining other roads which were forced on them to balance the State budget), then we could get rid of the tolls."

The tolls take in “somewhere near $30M per year – I don’t have a hard and fast number,” said Mr. Latimer, who faulted the Thruway Authority for not having opened itself to “a thorough, transparent review of operations.” Over the years, tolls have been eliminated in Greenwich, on the Hutchinson River Parkway and elsewhere, he noted.

"The toll booths were originally structured to pay off the debt incurred when the road was built, not to be a perpetual source of revenue,” he said.