LEVEL THE TOLLS

Sam Schwartz

Robert Moses built the bridges and tunnels where we pay tolls today within the five boroughs. Nelson Rockefeller, as governor, created the MTA in 1965 and took the excess revenue to pay for transit shortfalls. There’s no other rhyme or reason for it. If we started all over again, we wouldn’t put tolls on the Throgs Neck, Verrazano or Rockaway bridges to pay for a radial subway system that goes to the Central Business District. Let’s be fairer about it. 

I propose lowering the tolls at all the outer crossings — Throgs Neck, Whitestone, Triborough Bridge, Verrazano and Rockaway bridges. Let’s return the East River bridge tolls (removed by Mayor William Gaynor in 1911) to the level that they are at the Battery Tunnel or the Queens Midtown Tunnel to prevent “bridge shopping”. And let’s introduce a charge at the 60th Street grid line by EZ Pass or license plates. No tollbooths need be constructed. 

When commuters contribute to the congestion they create, the end result will be about $1.5 billion per year in new revenue. I would recommend directing a third of the revenue toward maintaining a state of good repair in the transit system, and two-thirds toward capital improvements of our transit and highway systems. 

The will to implement this could come from the outer areas, where we lower the tolls and from the downtown areas of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan where traffic will be relieved and transit improved. By bonding this at $12-15 billion dollars to start, we could create 35,000 recurring local jobs!

Sam Schwartz is President and CEO of Sam Schwartz Engineering (SSE), a firm that specializes in transportation planning and engineering. He also writes a column on traffic for The New York Daily News, has a column in Transportation Technology International, and blogs for Engineering News Record.

Images: Forum for Urban Design.