Transit Advocates Finalize Plans For Tolls At East River Bridges

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Crossing an East River bridge connecting Brooklyn and Queens to Manhattan may no longer be free if a group of transit advocates has its way.

Move NY, a group founded by traffic expert “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, has finalized its plan to place electronic tolls and license cameras on the East River bridges and across the entire length of 60th Street in Manhattan.

The plan is billed as a “toll swap.” Campaign Director Alex Matthiessen said he won’t call it “congestion pricing,” the term given to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed bid to limit traffic in much of Manhattan.

“[It] essentially lowers tolls in the outer parts of the city where drivers are paying way too much and asks those drivers who are paying nothing to cover the most congested and transit rich part of the city to pay their fair share,” Matthiessen told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane.

The plan would put tolls on the East River bridges, but drop the cost of traveling over other city spans.

It calls for drivers to pay $8 cash, or $5.54 with E-ZPass, each way at the now-free East River spans and on every avenue crossing 60th Street.

But the plan would cut tolls by $2.50 on the Verrazano-Narrows, RFK Triborough, Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges, and $1 on the Henry Hudson, Cross Bay and Marine Parkway bridges, 1010 WINS reported.

The plan would generate $1.5 billion a year to upgrade mass transit, according to supporters.

“Not only will you generate an enormous amount of revenue to reinvest back in the transit system and our roads and bridges, but you also smooth out traffic and eliminate a lot of the safety problems that come from excess numbers of cars traveling over those free bridges and through communities,” Matthiessen said.

Some drivers said they would not be able to afford the new tolls.

“People don’t like to pay anything most of the time, that’s the truth of the matter,” Nick Smacchia, a Westchester County resident, told CBS2’s Tony Aiello.

“Sometimes I take the long way just because it’s free,” a driver, Reggie, told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon at the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

But that’s the point, proponents say. If the proposal becomes reality, drivers would no longer be enticed to avoid the tolls at the Midtown Tunnel or Triborough Bridge, reducing traffic in Long Island City near the Queensboro Bridge.

City Councilman Mark Weprin, who opposed Bloomberg’s proposal seven years ago, approves this one.

“This is a better plan,” he said. “This is nothing like the old plan. This helps the outer boroughs.”

In June, 86 percent of participants of a Quinnipiac University study said traffic congestion in New York City is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem.

Seventy-one percent of those polled said placing tolls on free East River bridges would be a bad idea, but the opposition would drop to 49 percent if tolls were reduced at the same time on other bridges linking Manhattan to outer boroughs.

Mayor Bill de Blasio commented on Move NY’s plan last March, saying, “There’s some interesting and innovative ideas in it.” De Blasio said he did not support the 2008 proposal for congestion pricing by Bloomberg.

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