By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In a pre-emptive strike against any move by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (M.T.A.) to raise the tolls on New York City’s bridges and tunnels, state Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge) and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) stood at the entrance of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in Bay Ridge and implored the agency not to increase the tolls.
Golden and Malliotakis said they were reacting to media reports which stated they the M.T.A. is strongly considering raising the tolls. If the agency moves forward with toll increases, the cost of crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge could be as high as $15.00, the lawmakers said.
“The tolls can’t go up! We’ve paid a significant amount already,” Golden said. He noted that when the bridge first opened in 1964, the toll was 50 cents. “Now it’s $13.00. It will go up to $15.00. We cannot afford it. We need to send a message to the M.T.A.,” he said.
The M.T.A. is expected to come out with its operating plan, a document that is rumored to include toll increases, in October, Malliotakis said.
The Verrazano Narrows Bridge toll has gone up an astounding 3,000 percent since the bridge opened in 1964, Golden said.
Brooklyn residents, particularly those living in Bay Ridge, the community closest to the bridge, often drive to Staten Island, Golden said. “Many of our families live on Staten Island,” he said.
For motorists driving to New Jersey via Staten Island, the tolls are exorbitant, Golden said. “It’s not eight miles from here to Jersey, but it costs $25 to get there, between the Verrazano Bridge toll and the Goethals Bridge,” he said.
Malliotakis charged that the toll increases hurt New York’s fragile economy. “The New York economy cannot afford any further increases. There is no commercial discount. It costs a lot of money for commercial vehicles to cross the bridge,” she said. The amount of the toll for trucks is determined by the numbers of axels the truck has.
It costs a trucker approximately $80 more to drive to a terminal in Brooklyn and make the return trip west than it does to drive to a terminal in New Jersey, Malliotakis said. “We are at risk of losing jobs if these terminals can’t compete. We cannot as an economy in New York afford for these tolls to go any higher,” she said.
Golden and Malliotakis were joined at the press conference by Louis Pernice, president of Local 1814 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, and Frank Agosta, a union delegate. Pernice warned that the price of merchandise, food, and other items delivered to New York by truck could go up as a result of the bridge toll increases.
“People have to understand, the price of goods increases to cover costs of trucking it in. People are taxed twice. First they pay higher tolls. Then, they pay more for their goods and services,” Pernice said.
The high cost of the toll could keep some truckers out altogether, according to Pernice. “Truckers have to consider the tolls in the decision whether to take a job or not,” he said.
It’s not as if Brooklyn and Staten Island stand to benefit from the increasing funds pouring into the M.T.A. from the bridge tolls, Malliotakis said. “The M.T.A. uses our money for other projects. Traditionally, Brooklyn and Staten Island have gotten the bill,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) issued a statement harshly criticizing toll hikes.
“Why is the answer always to raise tolls? Every family and business in New York City has had to learn to live within a budget, so why can’t the M.T.A.? We are sick and tired of New York City’s debt-stricken agencies – whether it being the Port Authority or the MTA – running immediately to the taxpayers for a bailout. There has to be another solution that doesn’t involve shifting the burden to the taxpayer. I suggest the M.T.A. take a serious look at its finances, cut out the waste, and find a creative way to maintain the current level of services without raising fares or the tolls on the Verrazano Bridge,” Grimm stated.