Authoritative new study: East River Bridge Tolls Would Cut Traffic in Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City and Canal Street

Read the full report.

The NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives today issued a comprehensive 58 page report assessing the revenue, traffic, mobility and equity impacts of tolling the City's currently free East River bridges. The report was prepared by Bruce Schaller, a widely-respected transportation analyst who has worked for MTA New York City Transit and the Taxi and Limousine Commission. It synthesizes a vast amount of data covering traffic patterns, speeds, travel surveys and other sources.

The report concludes that tolling the bridges offers compelling benefits to New York City, including reduced traffic congestion in neighborhoods surrounding the bridges, and on the bridges themselves, and significant revenue for expensive bridge repair and maintenance.

Key Findings

1. "Free bridges" cause traffic problems and are costly to taxpayers:

  • Traffic on free East River bridges has increased 20% since 1981, only 6% on tolled crossings.
  • "Free" East River bridges cost tax payers a bundle:
    • $600 million to maintain and operate and $1.62 billion to rebuild over the last decade.
    • $600 million to maintain and operate and $833 million to rebuild over the next decade.

2. East River bridge tolls would reduce traffic congestion and raise revenue.

  • Reduce traffic congestion in Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City by 12-14%.
  • Reduce traffic on Canal Street in lower Manhattan.
  • Reduce traffic on the East River bridges by 24-26%.
  • Raise between $482 million and $522 million for NYC.
  • Raise between $58 and $106 million for the MTA.

3. Modern "non-stop" toll collection technology does not require toll plazas, cash or traffic backups.

By using a combination of EZ Pass and London-style license plate cameras and instant payment systems, no cash lanes and no toll plazas would be needed. Traffic would not need to stop to pay tolls.

4. Tolls would have little impact on low-income New Yorkers

"There is no such thing as a free East River Bridge." said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign." A billion and a half dollars in scarce City funds are budgeted for these "free" East River bridges in the next ten years. Meanwhile, the City is raising taxes, closing firehouses, shutting senior centers and postponing school repairs."

"This report shows conclusively that tolling the East River bridges make sense. New Yorkers face a clear choice between the current bridge mess which features massive traffic congestion, overrun neighborhoods and budget busting expenses, and sensible tolls which benefits motorists and tax payers alike." said John Kaehny, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.