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Queens Chronicle

Stupid is as stupid does: Toll hikes hurt Queens

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Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2010 12:00 am

Here we go again; the MTA is raising tolls for all the wrong people. Drivers from Bayside and Throgs Neck (along with other outerborough communities) will be asked to shell out another dollar round trip to pay for a transit system they do not use.

For example; tolls will jump by $1 at the Throgs Neck Bridge for a $12 round-trip fee ($10.06 with E-Z Pass). Ever try to get from Little Neck to Throgs Neck by bus? With the $223 million collected in tolls on the Throgs Neck Bridge each year and the bulk of that revenue going to transit, one would think we’d have Disney-style monorails whisking people back and forth every few minutes.

To rub salt in the wound, drivers in Brooklyn Heights heading to Manhattan during the peak of rush hour pay nothing now and face no increase on the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridges despite an alphabet soup of over a dozen subway lines available to them.

This plan would also add some vinegar on the wounds (ouch) of Brooklyn Heights’ residents now suffering with unbearable traffic. Make the Battery Tunnel $12 round trip and thousands more drivers will clog Clinton, Henry, Adams and Tillary streets to get to the free Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

Here’s another way to look at it; the four free East River bridges generate zero dollars in revenue and have 20 subway options entering Manhattan within their geographies. The six MTA bridges that serve transit-poor areas (Whitestone, Throgs Neck, RFK-Triborough (at the Queens and Bronx ends), Verrazano, Gil Hodges and Cross Bay) generate over $1 billion per year and are serviced by one lonely subway line, the A, running parallel to the Cross Bay Bridge.

What does this tell us? Clearly, we’re stupid; we have tolls in all the wrong places.

Yes, historically one set of bridges was built by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority with tolls and the others by the city without tolls. Wrong! The East River Bridges, now free, were all built with tolls. They were removed by Mayor William Jay Gaynor in 1911.

The easiest thing to do would be to swap the tolls plazas from TBTA facilities with the East River bridges. Do it dollar for dollar so that the MTA is kept whole and drivers as a class don’t pay anything more. Yes, a bevy of lawyers would have to sort out bondholder agreements along with state, city and federal laws. Environmental impact statements may have to be prepared and engineering plans drawn up. So what?! We removed the East River bridge tolls once in 1911 (when the one-way charge was 10 cents, or roughly $2.11 today). In 2011, let’s put the tolls back on!

Who wins and who loses? The transit-poor communities of Whitestone, Throgs Neck and others win. Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg, Fort Greene and Long Island City as a whole, come out ahead. This is because they are adjacent to the now free bridges, and fewer drivers will go through their streets to avoid the soon-to-be $12 round trip toll at the Battery Tunnel, Midtown Tunnel and RFK-Triborough Bridge. Tens of thousands of vehicles exit the Long Island Expressway at Van Dam Street just to avoid the tolled Queens Midtown Tunnel and opt for the free Queensboro Bridge.

This also means drivers who now use the East River bridges and continue to do so will pay more out of pocket but get there faster. Drivers on the tolled crossings to Manhattan will pay no more but face more congestion.

If we don’t change the vicious cycle of stupidity, expect $20 plus round-trip tolls at the Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Verrazano and RFK-Tribrough bridges by the end of this decade. As Forrest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Tell your Queens Traffic Guru how you feel about the city’s dysfunctional tolling scheme! And keep sending your questions about the recent MTA service cuts, getting to a Mets game and traffic and parking in general. Send your emails to TrafficGuruSS@qchron.net or write to Queens Traffic Guru, 611 Broadway, Suite 415, New York, NY 10012.

Welcome to the discussion.