Shelly’s bridge toll plan divides Brooklyn

Gorgeous bridge. But how would you like it with tolls?
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s call for $2 tolls on the East River bridges is already dividing neighbor from neighbor — and pol from pol — in Brooklyn.

The plan to charge drivers for crossing the currently free East River spans is part of Silver’s scheme, revealed last Wednesday, that also calls for a downstate payroll tax increase to alleviate the chronic budget shortages of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and avoid steep fare hikes on subways and busses.

In December, a state commission had recommended even higher tolls — plus fare increases — to help shore up the embattled authority.

Borough President Markowitz, whose domain includes the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, denounced Silver’s initiative, much like he has with other attempts to put tolls on the viaducts.

“I have always maintained these tolls are discriminatory, impractical and impose an unfair ‘tax’ on Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx,” the Beep, who like Silver is a Democrat, said in a statement.

Markowitz suggested other solutions, such as hiking the gasoline tax or re-enacting the commuter tax, to raise money for the MTA, which says it is facing a $3.4-billion budget gap and must raise fares.

Markowitz’s views are strongly echoed in neighborhoods like Bay Ridge, which have fewer mass transit options and longer commutes than the more congested neighborhoods like Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights.

But in the Brownstone Belt, where there was wider support last year for Mayor Bloomberg’s failed congestion pricing plan that would have charged Brooklyn and Queens motorists for entering Gaphattan, Silver’s toll goal renewed hopes that traffic might be reduced and mass transit would get a boost from the new revenue stream.

”It’s not a question of slapping a penalty on people in the outlying areas,” said Michael Cairl, a transportation wonk on the Park Slope Civic Council, which backed bridge tolls earlier this month. “It could bring about some immediate benefits.”

But tolled bridges could create a new set of harrying problems, such as traffic gridlock at their entrances.

The state commission anticipated this aggravation by recommending the installation of unmanned tolls that allow drivers to pass through at higher speeds.

Transit rider groups also approved of Silver’s plan, which faces opposition from other Democrats in the legislature.

”His plan is very good news for eight million daily subway and bus riders and suburban commuters,” said a statement from the Straphangers Campaign.

The group described the Silver model as “a compromise plan to prevent whopping subway, bus and commuter fare increases and devastating service cuts.”

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