Verrazano’s idle toll booths face the wrecking ballBy
MTA suits pose for a photo op in front of the long-defunct Brooklyn-bound toll booths on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. (Photo by Patrick Cashin, Metropolitan Transportation Authority)
In 1986, the United States Congress effectively eliminated two-way tolling on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and since then, the toll booths on the Brooklyn-bound side of the bridge have sat empty and in the way.
Yesterday, though, a new day dawned for car-dependent Staten Islanders traveling across the Verrazano as the MTA kicked off a year-long $2.5-million toll-booth removal project that will help eliminate congestion and bottlenecks at the east-bound entrance to the bridge. “The removal of these toll booths is the most significant change in the physical design of the bridge since the lower level was opened to traffic in 1969,” James Ferrara, acting president of Bridges and Tunnels Acting, said.
The history of one-way tolling along the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is an interesting one. In 1986, House representative Guy V. Molinari, a Republican from Staten Island, inserted a provision into the U.S. Department of Transportation’s appropriations bill that would have striped New York of one percent of its federal transportation aid if the toll booths were not eliminated. He did so, he said, because of increased pollution and traffic on the Staten Island side of the bridge. ”The last three or four months have been the worst we have ever seen, with traffic backed up across the island to the Jersey bridges,” Molinari said to The Times in early March 1986.
In exchange for eliminating the Brooklyn-bound tolling, the MTA hiked the cost of a bridge crossing by 100 percent. Instead of a $1.75 charge each way, the one-way toll would cost $3.50. The authority, after all, had to maintain what was then a Verrazano-Narrows Bridge surplus of over $250 million. Today, the one-way cash toll on the bridge is a cool $11.
The toll booths, though, have survived the years. In 1995, the National Highway System Designation Act permanently mandated one-way tolling, and Staten Island residents have long clamored for the destruction of the empy toll booths. Even though cars aren’t charged for crossing, drivers must still slow down to pass through the booths, and bottlenecks form as cars merge onto the bridge.
To address this problem, the MTA is going to eliminate the 11 toll booths on the Staten Island side of the bridge. When that work is complete, the authority will then realign the plaza roadway to allow for higher speeds leading onto the bridge. By 2014, the various on-ramps will be redesigned as well.
With 188,000 crossing in both directions each day, the Verrazano Bridge is the most heavily trafficked of the MTA’s bridges and tunnels. These renovations are a welcome change but do little to address the lack of transit integration from which Staten Island has long suffered. We can only hope that the MTA can be as forward thinking with the North Shore rail line as they are with the bridge. Hopefully, that project won’t take 25 years to get off the planning table as this toll-booth elimination proposal has.