Spring 2003, p.12

East River Bridge Tolls Dead Again, But Debate Very Much Alive

East River bridge tolls would be a boon to motorists and bridge neighborhoods alike. But myths abound, and a fair and open-minded review is needed to inform the public debate.

A politically battered mayor Bloomberg has shelved tolling the East River bridges. While new tolls are part of the Mayor's "Gap Closing Program," he and his political advisors have concluded that there is not enough political capital and time to win tolls before the next election.

Mayoral aides now refuse to discuss the tolls and the NYC DOT has vetoed allowing the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council to study them as part of the South Brooklyn Transportation Study and other regional transportation studies. Insiders believe this is because the DOT does not want reports about tolls to surface at inopportune times before the election.

But while tolls are politically dead again, killed by short-sighted Brooklyn and Queens city councilmembers, public interest in them remains high. Traffic is choking the neighborhoods around them, backing up on the bridges and clogging the central business district. The public wants solutions to this ongoing traffic disaster, and transportation experts unanimously agree that East River bridge tolls are a big part of the answer.

But toll proponents-who can now point to London's huge success with congestion fees-are talking past politicians weaned on the supposedly inalienable right to drive for free. Many myths about East River bridge tolls persist, including that they will require huge toll plazas that create traffic congestion. The Mayor should elevate the debate over tolls and address these myths by conducting a fair and open-minded review to answer questions about the costs and benefits of East River bridge tolls.

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