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Several Queens politicians take a stand against potential tolls on Queensboro, East River bridges

Queens borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Barry Grodenchik, and Assemblyman David Weprin gathered near the entrance of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge on Aug. 27 / Office of David Weprin

Aug. 28, 2017 by Nathaly Pesantez

Several Queens politicians voiced their opposition yesterday to a proposal that would charge commuters a toll for using the Queensboro bridge—and three bridges in Brooklyn–citing the effect on middle class New Yorkers and small businesses in the outer boroughs.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Barry Grodenchik and Assemblyman David Weprin expressed their disproval of the proposal Sunday at a press conference near the entrance of the Queensboro Bridge, one of the free East River bridges that may see the introduction of tolling if legislation is passed in Albany.

Weprin said at the gathering that Assembly Democrats met with the MTA last week to discuss potential plans to solve the MTA crisis, but made very clear one thing—that regardless of what plans are laid out, he will not accept any type of toll on free bridges connecting Manhattan to the boroughs.

“It would be a very bad thing for small businesses,” Weprin said. “It’s the heart of the middle class.”

Weprin also noted that middle-class New Yorkers have been using the free bridges to cross into Manhattan since 1911.

Katz said that several plans to introduce tolling in the free bridges have been introduced in past decades, beginning in the 1970s, but have all failed because of their infeasibility.

“You should be able to travel, even if it’s a little more burdensome, for free from borough to borough,” Katz said at the gathering.

Councilman Grodenchik, who represents parts of eastern Queens including Bayside and Queens Village, said that the addition of a fare on free bridges is actually a “tax by another name”, which would impose financial burdens on residents who are already experiencing rising costs of living.

“To me the tolls are a non-starter,” Grodenchik said. “I think it would place an unfair burden especially in my district, where its already difficult to get around.”

Grodenchik, like Katz, was there to lend political clout, since it’s Albany lawmakers who will determine whether the plan goes into effect.

The gathering comes two weeks after Governor Andrew Cuomo, in the midst of the MTA’s “summer of hell”, said congestion pricing—charging drivers tolls to enter traffic-packed, congested areas— in Manhattan is “an idea whose time has come,” according to The New York Times.

“We have been going through the problems with the old plan and trying to come up with an updated and frankly better congestion pricing plan,” Cuomo told the Times.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, has expressed his opposition to congestion pricing and believes the best way to raise funds for the MTA is by imposing a city tax on the very wealthy. He is advocating raising the city’s highest income tax rate by 0.534 percent to 4.41 percent for individuals making more than $500,000 and couples making more than $1 million. This tax increase, however, would require the approval of Albany, too.

The concept of a wealth tax to raise funds for the MTA is backed by State Sen. Mike Gianaris, who represents western Queens and who has expressed skepticism for congestion pricing in the past.

While Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer said he backs any plan that would fairly produce the revenue needed to fix mass transit, he vouches more for de Blasio’s idea to raise funds for the MTA through a tax applied to the wealthiest residents of the city.

The congestion pricing plan does have its supporters in Albany. Earlier this year, State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) introduced a bill to establish the “Move New York Fair Plan”, which calls for tolls on the East River bridges. The bill aims to reduce traffic congestion while raising revenue for the MTA. A similar bill was also introduced in the Assembly by Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez (D-East Harlem).

The Assembly bill would add a toll to East River bridges, including the Queensboro, of $5.54 with E-ZPass or $8.00 without. The amount is pegged to the tolls at the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. The Senate’s version, however, puts forth a a $5.00 toll with E-ZPass.

State Sen. Jose Peralta was the first state senator to endorse the Move NY Plan, expressing his support for congestion pricing in the past and reaffirming it in a statement today.

“As we are about to have survived the summer of hell, not without endless commuter nightmares, it is time we seek a permanent solution for our decaying public mass transit system,” Peralta said in a statement. “I understand some of my colleagues’ concerns, but the door should not be shut until all mass transit options…are thoroughly discussed.”

Calls to Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who represents Long Island City and Sunnyside (among other neighborhoods), as well as to Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, who represents Astoria, for comment were not returned.

While no specific plans have been put in place, a blueprint has been provided by Move NY, a grassroots campaign that first laid out ideas “to make the city’s tolling system fairer” by reducing tolls on bridges that currently have them and adding and restoring tolls on other bridges.

Councilman Grodenchik said Governor Cuomo promised New York politicians that a more thorough and specific plan to fund the MTA would be introduced early next year.

The “congestion pricing” model was first introduced by former Mayor Bloomberg in 2007. In a study conducted by Quinnipiac University Poll, New Yorkers by large were not in favor of congestion pricing, but said that traffic congestion is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem.

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15 Comments

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james edstrom

You charge for Staten Island Ferry. It’s free and it is mostly tourists. Why is it free anyway?

Reply
your neighbor

Interesting that the bridge toll bill was introduced by a politician from Staten Island.
As you might know, residents of Staten Island pay $5.50 for crossing the Verrazano Bridge instead of $17.00 like the rest of us – maybe we should balance the budget by charging Staten Islanders the full $17?

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tax the outsiders

Why dont we tax the tourists and out of city (NJ, CT, LI) residents who create much of the congestion on the roads, frustrating crowds (who don’t know how to ride) on the MTA, etc?

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FromLICQueens

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the elected officials for strongly voicing their opposition to this new TAX on the people of Queens and Brooklyn. This city is already the most expensive place to live in our entire country and most people are struggling financially in order to remain living in NYC. The governor is being utterly clueless and unfeeling about the huge financial burden of living in our great city. ENOUGH TAXES, ENOUGH FINANCIAL PUNISHMENT on the people of NYC!

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Anonymous

They’ve floated the idea of tolling the east river bridges for years but the opposition was too much. The biggest issue was always toll plazas and the traffic spill back they’d create. But now with cashless tolls that issue is no longer relevant. Now we can see how strong the lobbies and unions are and if they can once again kill the proposal.

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Basta

Right, but Uber doesn’t have a union, because everyone loves free market capitalism so much, right? Those scumbags were fine with blatantly breaking medallion laws, and now they will probably be begging the taxi unions for help fighting this.

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MRLIC

As I said JVB s probably for the tolling of he East River Bridges. I don’t usually agree with DumBlasio but his idea of Taxing the rich is better than Gov. (Corruption) Cuomo’s of tolling the Bridges over he East River. It is a “TAX” no atter how you slice it up, sure go make NYC more expensive to live in. GREAT IDEA GOV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Tony Rodriguez

what do they care? They sit up in their ivory towers and spit out ideas that they never have to deal with

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HC

“Ivory Towers” is a bit too lofty of a description for them. More like crouching in the shadows under bridges spitting out bad ideas.

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MRLIC

I’ve been congested for 3 days with a bad cold, but mayor DumBlasio is SILENT regarding any kind of tax to help me. These liberals only look out for their own.

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HC

I feel like traffic is getting so much worse at Queens Plaza. Combination of tunnel closures and construction on Jackson Ave. I’m in favor of a toll however, hopefully will ease congestion in the area even after the tunnels open, and giant cranes aren’t taking up the whole road.

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