State Sen. Andrew Gounardes’ proposal to give Brooklyn motorists a big break on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge tolls is one step closer to becoming reality. On Thursday, the State Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Gounardes sponsored by a vote of 55-2.
“It’s really fantastic,” Gounardes said on Thursday afternoon a few hours after the vote took place. “Now we have to make sure it passes in the Assembly so we can put pressure on the MTA to put money in the budget for it.”
Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus is sponsoring the bill in the State Assembly.
Under the Gounardes-Frontus bill, Brooklyn residents who drive over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge 10 times or more a month will pay $5.50 per trip with E-ZPass, the same rate Staten Islanders pay. Non-Staten Islanders currently pay $12.24 a trip with E-ZPass.
The bridge toll is $19 for drivers who don’t have E-ZPass. The bridge operates via a one-way toll system. Drivers pay traveling to Staten Island. Motorists traveling toward Brooklyn drive into the borough for free.
“The toll recently went up to $19, making the Verrazzano the highest toll bridge in the country. It’s highway robbery,” Gounardes said.
It’s important to give a break to drivers on the Brooklyn side of the span, according to Gounardes, who said there are large numbers of the borough’s residents working or going to school on Staten Island and many others who have relatives who live on Staten Island.
Brooklyn residents who use the Verrazzano to get to work each day spend at least $4,250 a year on tolls, according to Gounardes.
U.S. Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Brooklyn and all of Staten Island, was among those cheering the passage of the bill.
“This is incredible news. We are one community, with family and friends, jobs and appointments on both sides of the Verrazzano. This is a huge step towards providing much needed relief to so many Brooklynites,” Rose wrote on Twitter.
Gounardes, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge and several other Southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods, held a press conference in April in John Paul Jones Park at the foot of the bridge with Frontus, State Sen. Diane Savino and Councilmember Justin Brannan to call for passage of the bill.
“We’re talking about fairness and equity,” said Frontus, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Coney Island.
Here’s how the discount plan would work for Brooklyn residents: Drivers would first have to register for the program. The discount would kick in after the driver’s 10th trip over the bridge within a month. The motorist would receive a credit on his or her bill.
The bill now makes its way to the Assembly.