March 28, 2016 By Jackie Strawbridge
A controversial plan to toll the free East River Bridges is under official consideration by State lawmakers.
The proposal, unveiled by the coalition Move NY last February, would introduce tolls on the Queensboro and other East River bridges of $5.54 each way with E-ZPass, or $8 without.
However the plan would also reduce fares on other major bridges, including the Triborough/RFK, by up to 48 percent.
The bill was formally introduced by Assembly Member Robert Rodriquez of Manhattan on March 23, with 14 co-sponsors.
Move NY believes that this “toll swap” would be more fair for drivers on the Triborough/RFK and other tolled bridges, who have fewer transportation alternatives. Meanwhile, the coalition charges that it would de-incentivize the Queensboro Bridge, therefore reducing congestion and pollution around Queens Plaza.
Move NY also says its plan would generate $1.35 billion annually. Per the bill text, the new revenue would go towards MTA expansion projects potentially including ferry service, subway and bus station improvements and road and bridge maintenance, among others.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address some of the biggest weaknesses in our transit system,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “This plan will provide a steady and significant source of revenue for the MTA, allow transit starved communities to fund critical improvement projects, and relieve congestion.”
However, the proposal has received a mixed reaction within Queens particularly.
Last year, nine Queens Assembly Members signed a joint statement with Borough President Melinda Katz and several other lawmakers calling the plan unfair to “families who live in the transit desert of Queens.”
In December, Jonathan Matz of Move NY acknowledged at a Community Board 2 committee meeting that “Queens will be a tough nut to crack” in
their efforts to drum up support.
State Sen. Jose Peralta is among the few Queens legislators who support the bill. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer has also backed the plan, although his support is largely symbolic as Move NY needs to be enacted on the State level.
The Assembly bill has one Queens co-sponsor: Andrew Hevesi of Forest Hills.
Western Queens Assembly Members Aravella Simotas and Cathy Nolan could not be reached for comment on the bill as of press time.