By Helen Klein
Don’t look now, but, beginning this spring, eight unused toll booths adjacent to the Brooklyn-bound lanes on the Staten Island toll plaza of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge will be removed.
The $2.5 million project, which is expected to last until early 2011, is part of a reconfiguration of the toll plaza that also includes the removal of concrete islands, canopy structures, electronic signs and utilities, plus electrical, concrete and asphalt restoration work.
Subsequently the last three unused toll booths on the Brooklyn-bound side will be removed during phase two of a larger, five-year joint program with the state’s Department of Transportation. During the second phase, the roadway will be realigned, and additional work will be done on the bridge approaches on the Staten Island side.
The first phase of the project will be done by Brooklyn-based contractor Paul J. Scariano, Inc., which was awarded the contract late last month.
According to MTA Bridges and Tunnels, which oversees the span, during the project’s first phase, the toll booths will be taken out, “Two at a time, beginning with those at the far right of the Brooklyn-bound plaza. All work will be done by shifting lanes of traffic. Peak hour traffic lanes onto and through the toll plaza will be maintained during construction.”
The overall purpose of the project — which incorporates “the most significant changes in the physical design of the toll plaza since the lower level of the bridge was opened in June, 1969,”according to MTA Bridges and Tunnels Acting President Jim Ferrara — is to improve traffic flow along the corridor comprising the Verrazano Bridge and the Staten Island Expressway.
“Removing these outdated, deteriorating structures that have not been used since 1986 when one-way tolling was instituted will significantly improve traffic flow through the plaza and onto the bridge,” Ferrara contended.
The move likely means that two-way toll collection — which many Brooklyn residents have favored restoring as a way of alleviating traffic backups on this side of the bridge, and reducing wayfaring through local streets — is dead, noted Josephine Beckmann, the district manager of Community Board 10.
“It’s really final,” she said. “They are saying they are never going to go back to two-way tolls.”
The potential impacts of the construction on local traffic, however, are less certain. Beckmann said that the board will be reaching out to MTA Bridges and Tunnels, to, “Ask them to come in and discuss it with us. I don’t think they should be that bad, but, any time they do anything on the bridge, there’s a traffic impact. My instinct is telling me it’s not going to be horrible unless they switch lanes and affect Staten Island-bound traffic, but until we sit down and hear an actual plan, we won’t know.
“Once we hear the plan,” she added, “we are going to keep a close eye on what the traffic impacts are. We know our own community best,” she emphasized.