Demands toll discount for all drivers
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Borough President Eric Adams said he plans to use a little-known power of his office to try to get equity for all New York City motorists driving across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Charging that the recently announced plan by Governor Andrew Cuomo to give Staten Island residents a discount on the tolls on the bridge is unfair to New Yorkers living in the other five boroughs, Adams said he will introduce legislation in the City Council calling on the state to extend the discount to all of the city’s drivers.
“Many people do not know that a borough president can introduce legislation. This will be my first piece of legislation,” Adams said at a press conference in Bay Ridge on Feb. 8.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-parts of Bensonhurst), said he and Adams will jointly introduce a resolution to put pressure on the state to change the toll structure to allow motorists from any borough to enjoy the same discount Staten Islanders will be getting.
The Staten Island Advance reported that under the plan, announced by Cuomo in Staten Island last week, Staten Island residents who have EZ-Pass will pay $5.50 for crossing the bridge that connects their borough to Brooklyn.
The toll discount being bestowed by the state is expected to cost $14 million with half of the money coming from the State Legislature and half courtesy of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which operates the city’s bridges and tunnel.
Non-Staten Islanders, by contrast, will continue to pay $10.66 with an EZ-Pass and the full $15.00 toll if they don’t have an EZ-Pass.
Standing in Shore Road Park, with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge behind them, Adams and Gentile tried to make the case for toll discounts for everyone.
“This is a big pocketbook issue,” Adams said. “A two-tier bridge system is not going to be tolerated.”
Giving a discount to one set of New Yorkers isn’t fair to the rest of the city’s residents, Adams said. “We can’t decrease taxes based on geographic location."
Gentile said he wasn’t begrudging the idea of a toll discount for Staten Islanders. “This is not about the good people of Staten Island or the toll discount they got,” Gentile said. “But there are two sides to this bridge. We want the MTA and the governor to recognize that. Let’s not be in a position of pitting one borough against another."
The toll issue is particularly important to southern Brooklyn residents, many of whom drive back and forth to Staten Island on a regular basis, Gentile said. Brooklyn residents have family members on Staten Island and many of Brooklyn's young people travel to Staten Island to attend the College of Staten Island, he said.
There were signs that lawmakers whose districts straddle both Brooklyn and Staten Island would be willing to work to get a toll break for everyone.
State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Coney Island-Bensonhurst-Staten Island) issued a statement of support for the Adams-Gentile resolution.
“I am proud to stand with my colleagues in Brooklyn on the issue of toll relief. We saw what happen in Staten Island when both sides of the aisle work together for a common goal. Together we were able to achieve the first-ever toll reduction for Staten Island residents. It was difficult, but we did it. Those Brooklyn residents that use the Verrazano often should be able to get some relief also,” Savino stated.
“To recognize the toll burdens for residents on one side of the bridge, we must recognize the toll burdens for the residents on the other side of the bridge. To do anything less would give a new definition of highway robbery for Brooklynites,” Gentile said.
Gentile and Adams were joined at the press conference by Community Board 10 members and local Democratic Party activists. “All we want in Bay Ridge is fairness and equality,” Board 10 Chairman Brian Kieran said. “Include is all. Don’t leave is out.”