In the beginning, there was a toll to pay for traveling the New York State Thruway. And then the tolls increased. And then there was EZPass. And then the toll plazas vanished, which will happen soon at the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. And then there was cashless tolling.

And now the rest stops are going to get a makeover, complete down to the restaurants and other services.

Locally, the New Baltimore service area will temporarily close July 29 to make way for the renovations. The construction is part of a $450 million project to redevelop 27 service areas along the entire 496-mile length of the thoroughfare.

The New Baltimore service area is on the southbound side of the Thruway, but is accessible to northbound travelers by an exit ramp and bridge. Completed about a year ago amid the pandemic, the New York State Welcome Center on the northbound side of the highway will not be affected by the New Baltimore closing.

The good news is New York taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill. The project is funded through a public-private partnership and will not be paid for through state tax dollars or toll revenue, according to the New York State Thruway Authority.

Among the changes are the addition of exterior seating with access to Taste NY farm markets, picnic and play areas, and pet walking areas. Electric-vehicle charging stations will be added to the service areas, along with services for commercial drivers such as additional truck parking, showers, laundry facilities and fitness centers.

Dining options will also expand. A picture of what restaurants will be located at what service areas is still incomplete, but restaurants could include Shake Shack, Panera, Popeye’s, Burger King, Panda Express, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Taste NY and Applegreen Convenience Store.

Another piece of good news for us is the New Baltimore service area is included with nine other sites in the first phase of construction. A completion date isn’t set in stone, but New Baltimore is scheduled to reopen sometime after July 2022, according to the Thruway Authority.

The Thruway Authority, we should note, has high expectations for the project, calling it “a new travel experience on the horizon.” With this project, the Authority, much maligned for seemingly everything from toll hikes to bad weather, is taking the right road.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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