Pols debate proposed two-way tolling for Verrazzano

BOROUGHWIDE — There are two sides to the proposed two-way toll legislation for the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, and the benefits it would have on traffic congestion.

In June, the House of Representatives passed legislation to reinstate two-way tolls, claiming it would lessen traffic coming into and out of Brooklyn, and adding additional revenue to the MTA to help fix transit service in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Under the current tolling system, motorists drive from Staten Island to Brooklyn for free, while drivers who do not have an E-ZPass headed the other way pay a one-way toll of $19. Under a two-way toll, non E-ZPass motorists would pay $9.50 each way.

U.S. Reps. Max Rose, Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velázquez sponsored the two-way toll bill. Rose, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, contends that the split tolling would serve as a check on drivers who bypass the Verrazzano heading toward Brooklyn in favor of other crossings to avoid paying the toll, but clog the bridge and its approaches heading in the other direction to take advantage of the toll-free crossing.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis told this paper in April that she was generally supportive of two-way tolling but wanted to see a study the MTA had conducted to make sure the extra revenue would go toward lowering the bridge toll for her constituents.

The MTA conducted a study at the time proving two-way tolling would bring $10 to $15 million in additional revenue to make improvements to the bridge, which Malliotakis believes should already be funded by the existing Verrazzano Bridge toll revenue of nearly $500 million a year.

At a press conference held on Monday, Sept. 16 at the Bay Ridge entrance to the Verrazzano Bridge, Malliotakis explained that after filing a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain the study, she discovered that the study indicated that the measure would have little impact on traffic and would be increasing revenue for the MTA without any real benefit to Southwest Brooklyn and Staten Island residents.

Malliotakis called the two-way tolling proposal a “shell game that has been proposed by the local members of Congress that represent Staten Island and Southwest Brooklyn” and a “bad deal” for her constituents who reside in the same area.

“Think about this: The MTA makes $500 million a year in revenue on the Verrazzano Bridge. That’s a billion dollars every two years. Shouldn’t that money be going to the maintenance of the bridge?” she argued.

“With congestion pricing coming down the pike to fund transit options and infrastructure improvements,” she added, “a move to take the extra revenue from two-way tolling and claim it is being used for bridge maintenance would be nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.”

In addition, Malliotakis pointed out that the benefits on the roadway would be limited, according to the MTA report, which indicated that the reduction in congestion from split tolling wouldn’t affect rush-hour traffic, but rather benefit weekday off-peak hour traffic. Furthermore, the study estimated that, with the institution of two-way tolling, there would be a reduction of approximately 4,325 cars headed eastbound; however there would be an additional 4,361 traveling west.

“There may be a few less cars traveling in the morning to Manhattan,” Malliotakis said. “However, in the evening you will see more cars traveling, and people who live here in this community know that often on that return commute in the evening hours, we see the vehicle traffic backed up all over the streets at 92nd Street and on the BQE. In addition to that, the report says that it will only increase vehicle traffic speed by 0.1 miles per hour, which is a complete joke.”

One thing Malliotakis would like to see is a discount for Brooklyn residents who use the bridge. While Staten Island residents pay just $5.50 to cross the bridge, residents of Brooklyn pay the full toll. “Brooklyn residents have also been wanting to have some relief which they currently don’t receive, and they deserve that relief,” she contended.

“No one in the city of New York should be paying $19 to be traveling to another borough in the city in which they live,” Malliotakis went on. “So any surplus that they are making should they go forward with this plan, should be used to reduce the toll for these residents who have been paying far too much for far too long.”

She said it was adding insult to injury that, at the same time as two-way tolling is advancing, the Port Authority has proposed taking away the current 3+ trip discount on its three Staten Island-New Jersey bridges and replacing it with a discount only for drivers who make 10+ trips a month in what she called “an obvious attempt to make up for the shortfall the two-way tolling would create by diverting trips and revenue over the Verrazzano.”

Bob Capano, who is the chair of the Reform Party in Brooklyn, called the two-way toll,”A bad deal for Brooklynites. The streets of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights are already clogged,” he said, “whenever there is an accident on the bridge or one of the levels is closed. Under this plan, it will be all the time. Leave well enough alone!” 

Rose, however, defended the legislation. “The facts are clear: Congestion would decrease, with 4,000 fewer cars and trucks crossing the Verrazzano each day — 88 percent of which coming from out of state — all without residents paying a cent more,” he told this paper.

“Malliotakis can cherry pick stats, ignore facts and come up with conspiracy theories all she wants,” he went on, “but the fact is she supported this plan before she opposed it, and in her 10 years in the Assembly she hasn’t been able to decrease congestion or lower tolls one cent.”

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