For the six decades tolls were collected at the southeast line, no one ever liked paying them at Ogden Street to head downtown on the Niagara Thruway from the mainline Thruway.
When the Niagara Extension of the thruway opened in 1957, the toll was 10 cents to drive through downtown Buffalo. In 1975, it climbed from 15 cents to 20 cents. It was a quarter for most of the ’80s, and it had jumped to 50 cents before the tolls were torn down in 2006.
The only bright spot in paying that toll was getting into the lane of toll collector Edwin Delmonto.
“For many drivers passing through the Thruway’s Ogden Street toll barrier at the city line, Edwin Delmonto is like a ray of sunshine,” wrote Jane Kwiatkowski in the May 26, 1985, Buffalo Magazine.
“His greetings have become a rush hour tradition while his ever-cheerful disposition has won him … the honor of Public Servant of the Week.”
He saw former presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan pass through his toll booth, but it was the people he saw day in and day out that he made an impression on.
“Quite a few people say I brighten their day,” said Delmonto. “One fellow who comes through runs a seminar ‘Getting along with people’ and says he brings me up in the seminar. Priests in the area stand right up in the pulpit and say people should be as friendly as me.”
The Ogden and Black Rock tolls were eliminated when the toll booths were taken down 12 years ago. The Grand Island tollbooths were taken down this year, removing human interaction in favor of a cashless toll system and eliminating any chance of a smile as you pay an I-190 toll ever again.
Forty years ago today, July 1, 1975, the tolls at Black Rock and Ogden crept up from 15 cents to 20 cents, leaving many motorists searching their seat cushions for a nickel — and one kind Thruway employee ready to help.
Another now-useless skill that thousands of Western New Yorkers perfected was the slow-down to 10 or 15 miles per hour to toss our exact change into the plastic basket of the toll booth.
The advent of EZPass diminished the importance of this skill, which for some was left entirely in the Stone Age when the Thruway Authority removed tolls from the downtown Buffalo portion of I-190 in 2006.
Anyone who ever threw coins into the “exact change” basket at the Ogden or Breckenridge tolls wondered: How would it know if I threw in the wrong amount?
Motorists were wondering that as soon as the highway opened, and while Thruway officials say cheaters were few and far between, two early cheaters were arrested and fined $50.
The most interesting part of the accompanying article comes in the last paragraph, when it’s explained by Thruway brass that “the traveling public has been sold on the convenience of a super highway and is adjusting to the thought that it should be paid for by its users.”
When the city portion of the I-190 opened on July 30, 1959, cars paid 15 cents to access the road. By 2006, when the Thruway Authority stopped collecting tolls at Breckenridge and South Ogden, the cost had climbed to 75 cents for cars.
“It’s easy to catch toll cheaters”
“The percentage of persons attempting to ‘beat the toll’ in the exact change lanes of the Niagara Thruway’s Buffalo barrier is ‘infinitesimal,’ Division Toll Supervisor William A. Hall said today.”