Volume 19 Issue 35 | January 12 - 18, 2007


Backup — Verrazano’s toll change gets worse with time

There are new people in power in Washington and Albany, so bad decisions made two decades ago can be changed. We’re talking about the Verrazano Bridge’s warped tolling system.

What’s the problem? The bridge tolls are only collected from riders leaving Brooklyn to Staten Island. The result: thousands of truckers and other commuters going from Brooklyn or Long Island to New Jersey avoid the Verrazano toll by taking the Manhattan Bridge into Lower Manhattan and going to one of the free outbound routes – the Holland or Lincoln Tunnels or the George Washington Bridge.

Truckers can no longer use the Holland on the west end of Lower Manhattan, but they still clog up the east end of Downtown, Brooklyn and Midtown. For large trucks, which can pay almost $5/per axle on top of their $9 base toll, the longer route represents big savings. Motorists and truckers seeking to avoid the one-way toll contribute to making the Canal St. corridor one of the most congested, polluted and dangerous crossings in the city.

It shouldn’t take a revelation to see that adding pollution to the city’s most clogged areas, and forcing companies with business in Manhattan to waste more time and money, are things to be avoided

The Verrazano tolls used to go both ways until 1986 when Staten Island’s representative in Congress, Guy Molinari, and Sen. Al D’Amato, took the highly unusual step of fighting for federal rules on a local tolling decision. The two Republicans later got bipartisan “help” from Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, who backed this foolish change.

We were pleased last week when Rep. Jerrold Nadler told us he has not let the issue die and he plans to discuss changing the tolls with Sen. Chuck Schumer soon, although we are a little disappointed that he has not brought the topic up yet. Nadler told us he thinks the “political stars are aligned” for a toll change. We appreciate his advocacy on this issue and hope his optimism is well-placed.

This change will not happen quickly though. It will also need support in Albany and City Hall. Traffic analyst Brian Ketchum points out that London’s successful congestion pricing system, which has cut down on traffic in the city’s busiest sections, took a five-year, $30-million public education effort before it could be implemented.

We know there are people reading this saying, “It’s easy for these Downtowners with their great mass transit to back tolls on the other boroughs.”

Well to that we say the city’s mass transit commuters who pay $2 in MetroCard swipes to get around town should not have to subsidize the driving habits of people, particularly when there is not nearly enough resources to fund all of the needed mass transit improvements. Correcting the misguided one-way Verrazano toll could not only pay for some of these improvements, it would reduce pollution and lower business costs.

Ketchum, a veteran of New York’s traffic fights, and others are understandably skeptical the Verrazano tolls will be changed. “There hasn’t been any courageous people in government for three decades,” he told us this week. Let’s hope he’s wrong about that and Jerry Nadler is right.

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