The good news for commuters — MTA Bridges & Tunnels is revamping the toll plaza at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to switch over to open-road tolling, a move that when it kicks off this summer should save drivers time and cut down on backups that, on bad days, have gone all the way into Bay Ridge.
The bad news — the start of construction was less than stellar, with traffic backups for three days before the MTA reconfigured its traffic pattern — put in place to accommodate the work being done to remove the toll booths and replace the roadway, among other things — easing the backups and leaving motorists cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind them.
On Monday, April 10, the last day of the traffic snarl and the third day of the reconfigured traffic pattern, cars crept down Fort Hamilton Parkway from Marine Avenue toward 92nd Street, taking close to half an hour to make the four-block-trek around 7 p.m.
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis — who represents a district that crosses the Narrows — got so frustrated by the traffic further down that, instead of sitting in it and fuming, she parked and went to dinner at Skinflints, hoping the traffic would have eased by the time she finished.
It did — somewhat — and she made her way back across the bridge, determined to reach out to the MTA to demand it reconfigure the traffic pattern at the toll plaza, which she did in conjunction with State Senator Diane Savino, who also represents a bi-borough district.
“I had the same issue Saturday night,” Malliotakis recalled, noting that, initially she thought the problems were being caused by a collision. “When I made it over the bridge and found out it was a traffic pattern issue, that was unacceptable.”
To their credit, Malliotakis went on, MTA officials responded quickly to the concerns, having engineers look at the situation and make adjustments, that, she said, appeared to have worked, though, she cautioned, the changes first went into effect during spring break and Passover, when “fewer people are on the road.
“Next week, when everybody is back at work or at school, will there be traffic issues?” she went on. “We’re going to have to monitor the situation and talk to the MTA when needed.”
That question was also raised by commenters on Malliotakis’s Facebook page. Adam Wright, for one, worried, “Yesterday was terrible with less than normal volume and it was entirely due to the layout as you approach the tolls. Today was much better but there were far fewer cars on the road today. It’s going to be an unmitigated disaster once school vacation is over.”
MTA Spokesperson Christopher McKniff told this paper that the authority was “making every effort to limit the impact to the surrounding residential area and regret any inconvenience caused by our work to bring open-road tolling to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which will ultimately deliver an enhanced experience for customers, including reduced waiting at the toll plaza.”
“It’s a major project,” Malliotakis added. “I think there’s going to be a certain amount of sacrifice for all of us, but when the construction is concluded, it should ease traffic flow more than we’ve seen in the last few years.”