BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
A proposal to toll the free East River bridges to Manhattan is giving some local officials and residents a case of road rage.
Last Friday, State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) visited one of these bridges – the Ed Koch Queensboro – to protest a plan by the transportation advocacy coalition Move NY. Called the Move NY Fair Plan, it is the latest iteration of a congestion pricing scheme championed for years by “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, a former transportation commissioner.
The Move NY plan seeks to save funds by redistributing tolls on the crossings between the five boroughs, among a slew of other proposed changes. A “toll swap” would reduce fares on the seven MTA-operated bridges, including the RFK/Triborough bridge, while adding tolls to the four free bridges between Manhattan and the outer boroughs: the Queensboro, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Brooklyn.
However, Avella and Weprin charged that tolling the East River bridges would remove a vital transit artery used by small business owners and middle class commuters.
Weprin referred to East River tolls as “a tax on the middle class” and “highway robbery,” noting that his many of his constituents have few to no options for a convenient commute to Manhattan.
“People that live in Brooklyn and Queens rely on these free bridges,” Weprin said. “Parts of the district that Senator Avella and I represent in eastern Queens have no subways and they don’t even have very accessible buses… so people that have no choice sometimes end up driving their cars into Manhattan.”
“The entire point of the plan is to end the unfair tolls in the outer boroughs and to provide new public transportation options for places like eastern Queens,” a Move NY spokesperson said in response. “It’s up to lawmakers to help make sure the new law includes all the transportation gap fixes proposed in the plan.”
Avella added that he fears reduced tolls on the other bridges would not remain reduced under future State legislatures. Though the Move NY proposal includes a lockbox feature that would protect generated revenue, Avella said he doubts Albany is capable of instating this measure.
Move NY argues that its Fair Plan would generate $1.5 billion per year.
However, both Avella and Weprin argued that tolling any passage into Manhattan is unfair and suggested other means of revenue, in particular a commuter tax. To this goal, Weprin has introduced a bill that would impose a one percent tax on income earned in New York City by non-City residents.
The MTA faces a $15 billion funding gap for its 2015-2019 capital plan, according to the agency.
Proponents of the Fair Plan from Queens include State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and Weprin’s brother, Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens).
“In addition to reducing traffic and air pollution, the Move New York Fair Tolling Plan will result in twice as many eastern Queens residents saving money as paying more,” Weprin said in a statement released by Move NY in response to Friday’s press conference.
“I anticipate Passover coming up and having discussions,” the Assemblyman joked.
The Move NY Fair Plan can be viewed in full on the coalition’s website, iheartmoveny.org.
The MTA declined to comment on the MoveNY Fair Plan.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.