By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A proposal being put forth by a former city traffic commissioner to put tolls on the Brooklyn Bridge and the other East River crossings is getting a Bronx cheer from the man who will soon be the City Council’s most senior member.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) blasted the proposal from Samuel Schwartz to introduce a tiered system of tolls that would install levies on bridges in heavily congested areas that have viable public transportation options and lower the tolls on bridges in areas where public transportation is poor.
Gentile, who was first elected to the council in 2003 and who will become the council member with the most seniority in January, said the proposal is nothing more than a revised version of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial 2008 congestion pricing plan.
Gentile said the new plan was “dead on arrival” in southern Brooklyn.
The New York Times reported that under the plan, drivers using E-Z Pass would pay $5.33 on the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Ed Koch bridges, all of which are now free.
Move NY, a group pushing the plan, said the goal is to have a fair toll system. The revenue generated would be used to improve the city’s transportation infrastructure, according to the organization.
The plan would require the approval of the State Legislature.
Gentile was adamant in his opposition. “We will not sock motorists with new tolls in exchange for some ephemeral pledge to improve transit services somewhere,” he said.
Under the plan, motorists who drive on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge would pay a toll of $5.66 each way. The current toll, which is a two-way toll, is $15.00.
The proposed toll reduction on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge won’t work, Gentile said.
“Drivers in the south Brooklyn neighborhoods I represent use both the Verrazano and the East River bridges extensively – the same constituent who might benefit from a reduced toll on the Verrazano Bridge will then turn around and get socked with a new toll on the Brooklyn Bridge! That’s what we call robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Gentile said.
It’s bad timing to bring such a proposal to the table now, according to Gentile, who said residents of southern Brooklyn are already burdened with service interruptions on the R subway line due to the closure of the Montague Street Tunnel. The tunnel, which is undergoing repairs in the wake of damage from Superstorm Sandy, will be closed until late 2014.
The R train no longer travels between Brooklyn and Manhattan, forcing passengers to transfer to other subway lines mid-trip.
“Before we raise the issue of charging drivers to enter Manhattan or creating new revenue streams for infrastructure improvements, we need to talk about a real, sustainable commitment to bringing fast and reliable public transportation to the outer boroughs. Give me real on-time, frequent service on the R, N and D trains and then maybe we’ll talk,” Gentile said.
Congestion pricing was a plan to charge a traffic congestion fee for vehicles traveling into Manhattan.
Opposition to the proposed plan was so overwhelming five years ago it was never put to a vote in the New York State Assembly, Gentile said.
The 2008 plan would have charged drivers up to $9.00 to enter Manhattan below 60th Street on weekdays from 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
Gentile’s opposition notwithstanding, the new proposal appears to be gaining momentum.
Councilman Mark Weprin, who had been sharply critical of the 2008 congestion pricing plan, indicated that he is willing to consider the new proposal, the Times reported.
Weprin (D-Bayside) is running to become the next council speaker.