Ridge Congressman touts returning two-way tolls to Verrazano Bridge

Rep. Dan Donovan represents drivers on both sides of the Brooklyn-Staten Island span.
Brooklyn Paper
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Truth be tolled, one local congressman thinks its time for a change.

Staten Island Rep. Dan Donovan has asked the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to study the impact of reestablishing a two-way toll on the Verrazano Bridge, which would nix the current one-way toll that’s been blamed for rush-hour traffic jams that stretch as far north as Gowanus and Park Slope.

As the Staten Island Rep for a Republican-dominated House, Donovan’s support would be crucial for any changes to the federally-controlled Verrazano Bridge, and his sudden interest in a new study is a good sign that change may finally be coming to the span’s loathsome toll structure, according to Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman.

“If there’s a sense conveyed to the government and MTA that there is interest and support on both sides of the Verrazano Bridge for this, then I don’t see how this wouldn’t happen,” said Hammerman, who in January fired off a letter to Gov. Cuomo requesting a similar study of a two-way toll’s impact.

Designed to appease denizens of New York’s other island borough, the bridge’s current one-way toll exists — bizarrely — thanks to a 1986 Act of Congress, making it the state’s only municipal span governed by federal lawmakers.

Back in the dystopian helter-skelter of the early 1980s, Staten Island voters kicked up a fuss about pollution generated by the Verrazano’s massive toll plaza, which ensnared traffic on the other borough’s side of the span.

But the new toll structure not only benefitted Richmond County residents, but also commuters from Dirty Jersey, who realized they could take advantage of the new one-way toll — which only taxes drivers headed into Staten Island — and save money on their trip by taking the bridge into Brooklyn instead of the tunnels into Manhattan.

And the toll-skipping scheme is especially cost-saving for truckers, who can be taxed more than seven-times what passenger cars pay for a trip across the bridge.

In the more than three decades between then and now, transit advocates throughout Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan — including Board 6, Bay Ridge’s Community Board 10, and Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler — have called for drivers to be once again taxed heading in both directions along the Verrazano, citing traffic concerns and lost revenue.

But Staten Island congressmen have routinely thwarted change on behalf of their right-of-center constituency, making the reform impossible in a congress that — barring a few years during former President Obama’s first term — has been dominated by Republicans.

But Hammerman renewed the push for a two-way toll with his January letter to Cuomo in light of new cashless toll technology, which, in combination with the EZ-Pass, allows drivers to breeze across the bridge without stopping to pay a toll, relieving Staten Islanders of their pollution argument when it comes to preserving the one-way tax scheme.

At the time, a rep for Donovan told Brooklyn Paper the congressman wouldn’t support any changes without a study proving its efficacy, and his comments proved to be more than just hot air after the federal lawmaker fired off a letter to acting MTA chairman Fernando Ferrer requesting a study to determine the traffic and revenue generating impacts of the toll change.

Donovan’s newfound interest in the Verrazano comes as a very welcome development in the long push for reason, according to Hammerman.

“Having Donovan on board would obviously be extremely helpful, if not critical to making this happen,” the district manager said.

The congressman went on to indicate that if a study found that a two-way toll would create positive change, he’d be more than happy to support it.

“If the MTA is going to recoup the millions of dollars they’re losing now by having a one-way-toll and it doesn’t cause more traffic — in fact it lessens traffic — and we could use some of that revenue that they would now generate to help the people of Brooklyn and Staten Island, then it is something I would very much consider,” Donovan said.

In response to Donovan’s request, Transit Authority president Donald Spero wrote in a letter dated April 4, “we are certainly willing to look at these potential impacts,” but stopped short of confirming an actual study is underway. A request for clarification from the transit authority only yielded greater confusion, with spokesman Chris McKniff pulling back on Spero’s comment and stating Donovan’s request was merely under evaluation.

The congressman seems to feel differently. In an April 14 letter to Spero, Donovan wrote that he was “pleased that your agency will analyze commercial vehicle routes, traffic impacts on Staten Island and Brooklyn roads, and revenue impacts as part of your review,” and asked the agency president to “please share an approximate timeline for your analysis.”

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Laurie says:
Yes, please - do it.
April 17, 2017, 10:19 am
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
This article a barely comprehensible word salad. All that needs to be said is that casheless tolling takes away the only need for one way tolls.
April 17, 2017, 10:20 am
Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from BS, BK, NY, US says:
Assuming the open road cashless tolling on both directions, could the toll of this bridge will be cut in half in one way? It will be very efficient but the amount of toll cost a day will remain the same.
April 17, 2017, 10:55 am
Dave from Brooklyn says:
Lower tolls on the Verrazano should be done in parallel with higher tolls for Manhattan bound or Manhattan thru traffic.
April 17, 2017, 11:38 am
Sajh from Staten Island says:
I agree that as long as the round-trip toll equals the current one-way and the same E-Z pass discount to staten island residents is kept, then this isn't a big deal.
April 17, 2017, 5:06 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I still think a better idea is just abolish the toll altogether especially if the bonds have been long paid off. Wasn't that original purpose of the toll? Unfortunately, those who believe they should be sources of revenue is the reason why some like this one are astronomically high when they shouldn't be. Also, there are many who view tolling as double tipping especially when their taxes for infrastructure are already paying for these crossings. The reason I say that is because I'm sure some of you went to restaurants where you told to leave a tip even though it was already included in the bill, and that's why I feel that tolls should be removed the moment the bonds used to build the said crossing or highway have been paid off.
April 17, 2017, 5:10 pm
Rob from NY says:
MOVE-NY Fair Toll Plan!
April 17, 2017, 5:56 pm
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
Would it be better to build a gandolar along the Verrazano Bridge?
April 17, 2017, 7:17 pm
Brenda from Park Slope says:
Looking at the comments here I can't believe how many of you are getting butthurt over this! This is like a serious new level of being butthurt!
April 18, 2017, 6:43 am
Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from BS, BK, NY, US says:
Look in the bright side: If the MTA approves it through a study, congestion on the Gowanus Expressway will be greatly reduced during rush hours thanks to open road tolling and will be breaking the chain of a phenomenon known as "Bridge Shopping."
April 18, 2017, 9:59 am
Maria from Sunset Park says:
Pedro - what the fug are you talking about? You sound like a rambling idiot.
April 18, 2017, 10:06 am
Tooty from Staten Island says:
Giving us a new toll is unfair! The toll is for the people coming from Brooklyn. They all wanna come here, then they want us to pay for it!!!!
April 18, 2017, 10:45 am
Joe from Bay Ridge says:
Tooty, no one "wants" to go to Staten Island. Sometimes have to pass through it.
April 18, 2017, 3:43 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I still feel that the tolls should be removed on all bridges and tunnels completely. They have been paid off decades ago, and they were supposed to be removed. The only reason they are still there is because of politicians who believed that they would make a good source of revenue. Ironically, that idea came from Robert Moses, who many anti-car fanatics despise. His original idea was to just make them maintain where it was on, but later politicians made it go to their pet projects, which caused them to go even higher even when demand didn't increase. Let's not forget that when the five boroughs were first formed back in 1898, they were told that the tolls on the bridges would be removed the moment the bonds for them were paid off, and the city at that time did keep their word on that, otherwise they would have demanded secession from being part of NYC if betrayed. Overall, I would like to see more audits on the MTA before even thinking about increasing existing tolls let alone placing new ones. As for the Move NY Plan, most of those living in the outer boroughs and surrounding suburbs oppose this idea on huge levels, which is why this will get defeated just like any other tolling plan that goes back as for as the 1970's that was opposed greatly even then. Unfortunately, there are many of those who believe that the boundaries of NYC are where the subway lines stop when they really aren't, which is why those areas happen to be autocentric.
April 18, 2017, 5:09 pm
Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from BS, BK, NY, US says:
Maria, the Verrazano Narrows bridge is the only crossing that has only one toll towards Staten Island because about 50 years ago, before the MTA was created, congress improved tolls towards Staten Island, in which the late Robert Moses, who had major influence to the TBTA, was pleased for the very most part. In addition, he created suburbia within the City limits, especially in Staten Island. Now that a federal elected official has supported tolls in both directions and demanded the MTA to study it, I will not be surprised that tolls in each direction will be cut in half.
April 19, 2017, 10:15 am
Historical Fact Fail from Brooklyn says:
Hey Tal,

Can you perhaps explain how Staten Island was promised no tolls in 1898 when in 1898 the

Model T car was still a decade away
The Verrazano was -/ 65 years away
April 19, 2017, 10:59 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
I have a fairer and better idea. Remove the tolls all together and connect Staten Island to its city. These tolls are unjustified and prevent the free travel of New Yorkers in their own city.
April 19, 2017, 1:02 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Since someone here who is using an alter ego to make a claim about bridge tolls, let give that person a history lesson. Although the Model T Ford didn't come until 1913, the automobile itself did exist since the invention of the internal combustion engine by Nikolaus Otto in 1876 over in Germany. Speaking of Henry Ford, he was already making cars as early 1896. The only difference was that they were mostly for the rich considering how they were made, while the Model T only cost less because it was made by an assembly line that made it that way. As for the tolls, they were originally for the horse carriages that used them, but they were paved on the bridges to allow for motor vehicles use them as they became more common while making horses and other service animals pretty much obsolete. Meanwhile, I do agree that the toll on the VNB alone is what makes Staten Island feel separate from the rest of the city, and the same could be said with the Rockaways and Broad Channel over in Queens, because they to have to pay tolls to get around. One other thing, the reason why Staten Island had no tolls when it was made into one of the five boroughs back in 1898 was mainly because of its distance to either Brooklyn or Manhattan. As a matter of fact, it's more closer to NJ than it is to rest of the NY despite being part of this state.
April 19, 2017, 4:34 pm
Historical Fact Fail from Brooklyn says:
The reason why there were no bridge tolls into Staten Island in 1898 was the bridge DID NOT EXIST!
April 19, 2017, 4:54 pm
Catherine from Staten Island says:
The bridge is structurally unsound. It won't stand more than a few more years anyway.
April 19, 2017, 7:21 pm
HONEY Pooter from Williamsburg says:
Reading Pedro's comment is like hearing a child explain quantum mechanics. He's clearly out of his league, and I'd venture to say that he has some kind of learning disability. Unless this is a child writting, he displays an alarming lack of maturity and cognetive ability. Possibly just the result of a poor education, but more likely some kind of genetic mental defect.
April 20, 2017, 6:17 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
To answer Mr. Idon'tuseaconsistantnamewhenIcommenteventhoughIamprobablythatverysameperson, the point isn't about what existed then, it's about what exists now. The reason why many of the East and Harlem River bridges to Manhattan don't have tolls anymore is because the ones they had was made specifically to pay off the bonds, which are no longer needed. However, that doesn't mean that taxes for infrastructure isn't covering them, and that's collected by city and state governments. In a way, they are being paid for even if not directly. I could never understand the claims for keeping tolls like the one on the VNB. BTW, the entire northeastern states have both the highest in tolls and gas taxes yet the roads are in terrible shape. Where exactly are they going to? This is why there should be an audit before considering hiking either of the two. Meanwhile, roads in the south have very good roads with both the gas tax and tolls at all time low, which probably means that they aren't doing pet projects there unlike over here. Overall, most politicians won't support something like the Move NY Plan unless they get something out of it that benefits them.
April 20, 2017, 5:28 pm
Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from BS, BK, NY, US, formally from Williamsburg says:
As a former resident of your neighborhood, how dare you mock my mental status and my education. FYI, you're right that I have a learning disability, but a mild autism spectrum disorder since I was 7. I was intelligently bright on all subjects, with a hobby to research on public transportation in NYC, especially for the MTA. I was a co-valedictorian of the Class of 2009 at my high school and got a BA in History from Brooklyn College in 2013, with a Deans Honor's List during the Spring 2010 Semester. Thus I only commented on the articles and nothing else. Focus on commenting on the article and nothing else. You will be flagged. BTW, I am not the only one who learns about this article as well. Focus on attacking on other commenters that will giving you a very hard time.
April 20, 2017, 5:40 pm
Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from BS, BK, NY, US, formally from Williamsburg says:
And my previous comment refers directly to you HONEY Pooter. The reason I respond to you in a passive-aggressive way is because you are stereotypical towards my mental status and my education. Note that I am not an MTA employee, following the media just like you.
April 20, 2017, 5:42 pm
Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from BS, BK, NY, US, formally from Williamsburg says:
Finally, I am very sensitive to anyone who are commenting in a negative way that doesn't have to do with the article above. You will be flagged as a reported abuse comment if you are just plain trolling me.
April 20, 2017, 5:45 pm

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