NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – It was 100 years ago today that tolls on the East River bridges were lifted.

WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell In Manhattan

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“When the bridges were built, the absolute intent was to maintain them with toll revenue,” says traffic engineer Sam Schwartz (a.k.a. “Gridlock Sam”).

He says that means the city has forgone $31 billion in revenue. He’d like to see the tolls come back.

“The public is paying for it now. It’s paying for it in risks. It’s paying for it in the congestion,” says Schwartz.

Schwartz says that when he was chief engineer for the New York City Department of Transportation, the Manhattan Bridge nearly fell into the river. Routine maintenance has been neglected for decades.

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“When we blasted away the rust, half the steel was gone in the eyebar,” says Schwartz.

The eyebar is what held the bridge cables to the Earth.

The money from tolls would be used for maintenance.

“I really hope we don’t have to wait till we have a disaster,” says Schwartz.

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To mark this anniversary, the NYC Bridge Centennial Commission, co-founded by Schwartz, will erect a historic replica toll-booth at the Manhattan entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge (Delancey Street at Suffolk Street).