By Madina Toure
Lawmakers and community leaders are divided over Move NY’s proposed tolling plan for East River bridges.
Over the weekend, state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), City Councilman Barry Grodenchik, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman and others rallied against the proposal, which calls for the addition of a $5.54 cashless toll on the four East River bridges—the Ed Koch Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges — if drivers use E-ZPass or an $8 cash toll. There would only be electronic tolling.
The tolls would be employed to reduce traffic in the city and lower transit costs for New Yorkers. The plan also would reduce tolls on the Henry Hudson, Cross Bay, Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial, RFK/Triborough, Whitestone, Throgs Neck and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges.
Weprin has introduced legislation in the Assembly that would ban the city from placing tolls on the East River bridges. Avella has sponsored legislation in the Senate.
Weprin’s alternative is bringing back the 1 percent commuter tax on workers who do not live in the city, half of which will go to the MTA and the other half toward the city for expenses such as sanitation, police, fire and transportation.
“It’s going to disproportionately affect Queens residents and it’s going to disprortionately affect small businesses and low- and moderate-income people that can’t afford it,” he said.
Alex Matthiessen, Move NY’s campaign director, said the proposal caps the number of tolls for commercial businesses or vehicles at one round-trip toll per day and that it will create a $350 million dedicated road and bridge fund.
“The system we’ve got is completely broken and these guys (Avella, Weprin) know that and we’ve got a plan that’s been five years in the making and which reflects the input of” thousands of stakeholders, Matthiessen said.
He said Move NY is planning to introduce legislation some time during the next legislative session in 2016 and is in the process of drafting the bill.
The proposal has received support from about four dozen elected officials, including state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) as well as Make Queens Safer, the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives, according to Matthiessen.
Peralta, the first lawmaker to support the proposal, said the Assembly is not considering the commuter tax and that the opposition is coming from northeast Queens where public transit is limited.
“The people so far who have been against it are the people who represent the Bayside area, the David Weprins and the Tony Avellas of the world and Barry Grodenchik,” he said.
The plan would bring equity to the cost for commuters and improve the transportation infrastructure, he said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to have a bigger conversation with stakeholders in the metropolitan area about how to strengthen the MTA for the long term, ideas he said have been looked upon negatively in Albany and would be hard to achieve.
The proposal would increase traffic speeds inside the central business district by as much as 20 percent, reduce tolls by 45 percent on the RFK, Whitestone, Throgs Neck and Verrazano and by 48 percent on Henry Hudson, Cross Bay and Gil Hodges, Matthiessen said.
Avella called the proposal “nothing more than a tax on those who can least afford it.”
“In an economy where the middle class has been squeezed dry, real people will absolutely struggle to pay for this policy and we should not be putting them into that position where they have to,” he said in a statement.
Borough President Melinda Katz has also opposed the plan.
(Revising quote from Alex Matthiessen, who meant to say thousands of stakeholders)
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour