These bridges won’t be free for much longer if DOT has its way. (Photo by flickr user SheepGuardingLama)
While those of us in the pro-congestion pricing camp were busy slamming Sheldon Silver and mourning the death of Mayor Bloomberg’s radical and potentially revolutionary congestion pricing plan, the New York City Department of Transportation had other plans.
Speaking on Friday at the Regional Plan Association’s annual conference, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan let slip that congestion pricing in name may be dead, but the ideas and certain proposals are far from dead. “I really don’t think that we should be in the business right now of eulogizing congestion pricing. The way I prefer to think about it,” she said, “is that perhaps we are in little more of a hibernation mode.”
DOT, you see, is trying to return to an idea dropped during the build-up to congestion pricing: tolls over the East River bridges. Furthermore, these tolls could potentially be used to fund the MTA’s capital campaign and its currently-projected multi-billion-dollar funding gap. Pete Donohue from the Daily News has more:
“At the end of the day, the failure on congestion pricing that occurred last month was just a setback,” said a fellow panelist, former Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw. “I think it will be reconsidered in the near future.”
He predicted congestion pricing would come back in a somewhat different and “purer” form: tolls at the East River bridges and across 60th St.
Shaw chaired a commission that recommended charging $8 to drive below 60th St. It largely would have affected drivers who do not currently pay to enter lower Manhattan because they use free East River bridges. The goals included reducing traffic and generating funds to improve the mass transit system.
Furthermore, Donohue notes, the new MTA commission on funding led by former MTA head Richard Ravitch will consider both the East River tolls and congestion pricing plans as sources of revenue for the beleaguered transportation authority.
I am all in favor of tolling the East River bridges. Right now, four bridges — Brooklyn, Manahttan, Williamsburg, Queensboro — feed into Manhattan south of 60th street for free. Users of these bridges have myriad public transportation options, and yet these drivers still get a free ride into and out of the city. If tolling these bridges would provide the MTA with funds while reducing congestion and automobile use, DOT should make it happen. The city and its public transit advocates could use a big win, and it’s comforting to see DOT keeping this hope alive.