Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A History of Tolls on the Hutchinson River Parkway and Their Impact on Pelham

Construction of the Hutchinson River Parkway begin in 1924.  Its first two-mile stretch was finished at the end of 1927.  By October of the next year, eleven miles of the Parkway were completed stretching from Boston Post Road in Pelham Manor to Westchester Avenue in White Plains.  

The original parkway was more like a park than the virtual super highway that Pelhamites know today.  There was limited access to the parkway.  Bridges above the roadway were lovely stone arches and rustic wooden light posts helped light both the roadway and adjacent bridle paths.  

That all began to change in 1936 when Robert Moses decided to build additional parkways in the region.  According to one account:

"A northward extension of the Hutchinson River Parkway from White Plains to King Street (modern NY 120A) in Rye Brook on the Connecticut state line was completed in 1937 and a southward extension from Pelham Manor to Pelham Bay Park opened in December 1937.  The new southerly extension became part of a rerouted NY 1A.  The final segment of the parkway—a southward extension to the Bronx–Whitestone Bridge—was completed in 1941 and initially designated NY 1X.  The NY 1X designation was removed in 1946 and replaced with a realigned NY 1A, which had previously followed Bruckner Boulevard and Shore Road between what is now the Bruckner Interchange and exit 5 on the Hutch. The NY 1A designation was completely removed c. 1962." 

Source:  "Hutchinson River Parkway" in Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia (visited May 8, 2016).  

It was the southward extension of the Hutchinson River Parkway to the Whitestone Bridge in the Bronx in 1941 that subsequently created decades of traffic headaches for the Town of Pelham.  At that time toll booths were placed across all lanes between Exits 7 and 8 on the Hutchinson River Parkway.

Image from Undated Glass Lantern Slide Showing the
Hutchinson River Parkway Toll Booths.  Source:  "Hutchinson
River Parkway Toll Booth" in Westchester County Parks
Commission Lantern Slide Collection of the Parks Commission
Photograph Collection.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge. 

Initially the toll collected at the Pelham Manor Toll Booths was one thin dime.  Almost immediately, drivers began dodging the new toll by driving through the Town of Pelham to get around the toll booths.  Though toll dodging began almost immediately, it did not become a significant problem until 1958.  That year, the toll rose to twenty-five cents.  Almost immediately Pelham's traffic nightmare began -- a nightmare that lasted for nearly four decades as tens of thousands of vehicles dodged the tolls.

Once the toll rose to twenty-five cents, cars began leaving the Parkway before reaching the tolls at both ends of Pelham and made their way onto the streets of the town to avoid the toll.  As one account put it in 1978:  "During the height of the morning and evening rush hours, these toll dodgers form a continuous stream of cars which cause many serious problems.  Foremost among these is the safety hazard they represent to children walking to and from school."  (See below.)

Soon Pelham was forced to deal with the traffic problem in odd ways.  For example, traffic was so heavy on Wolfs Lane that it began to take a toll on the roadway itself.  The roadway had to be repaved with a "heavy duty bituminous concrete at considerable expense to our local taxpayers" to withstand the traffic onslaught.  Additionally, the Village of Pelham Manor was forced to make many of its streets one-way, and prohibited certain turns at many intersections in an attempt to control the traffic.  A Village of Pelham Manor Trustee complained to one local newspaper:  "These traffic restrictions cause great inconvenience to many people, including our local residents who are forced to take circuitous routes when driving to and from their own homes."  

In 1979, an agreement was reached to shift upkeep of the Parkway from the East Hudson Parkway Authority to the New York State Transportation Authority.  As part of that agreement, the toll booths were slated for removal. 

Traffic authorities, however, had become addicted to the revenue generated by the toll booths.  (By the early 1990s, according to The New York Times, the two toll plazas raised $11 million annually; the money was used for road maintenance, and to pay toll takers and the police who patrolled the Parkway.)  State officials balked at the cost of paying for maintenance and police without the revenue stream from the tolls.  The battle over whether to close the toll booths waged for years and years.  

Finally, in 1994, State legislative leaders reached an agreement to end the tolls on both the Hutchinson River and Saw Mill River Parkways.  At the time, those were "the last remaining state roads outside the Thruway system that [were] not free to motorists."  Steinberg, Jacques, Albany Leaders Strike Deal to End 25 Cent Tolls on Hutchinson and Saw Mill River Parkways, N.Y. Times, Jun. 8, 1994.  

On October 31, 1994, the last toll taken on the Hutchinson River Parkway was collected just before midnight.  The following month, the toll booths were demolished.  Pelham's nearly four-decade traffic nightmare caused by the Hutchinson River Parkway tolls was finally over.

Detail from First Page of the Program Issued on the Occasion
of the Dedication of "Parkway Field" (Today's Glover Field)
on October 15, 1955.  The Location of the Toll Plaza on the
Hutchinson River Parkway May Be Seen Near the Upper
Left Corner of the Image.

*          *          *          *          *

To learn more about the toll booths and to read a few of the articles referenced in today's posting, see:

Higgs, John H., Public Opinion -- Problem Toll-Dodging, The Herald Statesman [Yonkers, NY], Feb. 10, 1978, p. 6, cols. 2-4.  

"Hutchinson River Parkway" in Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia (visited May 8, 2016).

Steinberg, Jacques, Albany Leaders Strike Deal to End 25 Cent Tolls on Hutchinson and Saw Mill River ParkwaysN.Y. Times, Jun. 8, 1994.

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At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Gerry Cooney said...

Lived at Secor Lane and James Street. Remember well when James Street and Wolf's Lane as well as Ely Avenue and The Esplanade became one way and no left turns of the Post Road northbound was instituted. Too young to drive at the time, yet I remember it being a real hassle. The PD would give locals a pass if the came in off of the Post Road. During snowstorms we would go down to the toll area and watch the car crashes.

At 1:46 AM, Blogger Kevin Pintauro said...

and yet the 'one way street' off boston post road remains a one way and left turns are prohibited until the esplanade - it makes me wonder how much time ive spent in my life having to drive to esplanade, down to james st, and then basically back to boston post road again


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