Bill To Toll East River Bridges Introduced in The Assembly

A new plan calls for the tolling of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges with the money going to mass transit improvements.

Manhattan Assemblymember Robert J. Rodriguez last week introduced long sought and long debated legislation that involves a toll of the East River bridges.

If passed, the legislation, dubbed A09633, will see a toll for motorists using the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges. The bill also will create a $4.5 billion Transit Gap Investment Fund (TGIF) to expand public transit and improve accessibility for millions of New Yorkers, particularly those who live in so-called “transit deserts.”

The legislation will earmark $1 billion dollars for local projects to be allocated equitably among Community Districts in all five boroughs. Each district will have $15-$21 million to work with to make their transit hubs more accessible based on priority needs (e.g., repaired stairways, station elevators, bus shelters, Vision Zero streetscaping).

Likewise, a $700 million Suburban County Transit Fund is established under the legislation, which county officials can use to subsidize county bus service and improve access to commuter rail by increasing parking capacity at select stations, adding shuttle service, and adopting other strategies for facilitating the use of LIRR and Metro North service.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address some of the biggest weaknesses in our transit system. This plan will provide a steady and significant source of revenue for the MTA, allow transit starved communities to fund critical improvement projects, and relieve congestion,” said Rodriguez.

The plan intends to relieve bridge congestion by mitigating the current usage of these bridges by drivers simply looking to avoid the tolls of the other routes, like the Verrazano Bridge. Simultaneously, the plan encourages the use of public transportation for those who now take their cars in their commute to work.

A version of this bill was floated under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, where it asked the City Council to make a resolution allowing the state to impose the tolls as they are the legislative body with taxing authority.

However, lawmakers in Brooklyn were split on the idea with many representing areas close to the bridges in support of the tolls, but several who lived in southern districts where mass transit isn’t as good, opposed as a tax on their constituents, many of whom drive.

Similarly, the Rodriguez measure drew support from Brooklyn Assembly Members Jo Anne Simon (Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn), James Brennan (Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington) and Walter Mosley (Fort Greene, Clinton Hill).

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon

“I support the bill whole heartedly,” said Simon. “It will make a real difference in the lives of New Yorkers by increasing public transit, lowering inequities in the system of tolling and providing much needed capital dollars to the chronically underfunded transit network New Yorkers and New York’s economy depend on.”

“We as legislators have to think creatively when it comes to funding the MTA. The MTA needs a dedicated funding stream that will bring it the stability needed to plan for future projects while also covering the costs associated with keeping the system in a state of good repair. I will continue to work with my colleagues here in the New York State Assembly to see that the MTA Capital Plan is fully funded as soon as possible.” said Brennan.

“As Brooklyn moves forward into the 21st century our public transportation must keep pace with the increasing demand for fast, efficient, and reliable service. Overcrowded platforms, unsanitary subway stations, and delay in services can no longer define outer borough transportation service. I am proud that my community residents – across the board – are involved in this dialogue on how do we shape our mass transit system in the coming years; likewise, I look forward to working collaboratively with my colleagues in the State Legislature to push this policy and legislation into law,” said Mosley.

As far as what the toll will be, the legislation does not specify a specific number. Rather, there would be provisions in place that dictate a fluctuating toll, depending on factors like the time of day and the number of cars on the road. The DOT would devise a variable, demand-based pricing schedule, so that actual tolls are higher at peak times and lower off-peak. This variable schedule would have to raise at least as much money, overall, as would be raised if the tolls were a constant price.