Home MTA Bridges and Tunnels As Bridge and Tunnel tolls go, so goes the MTA

As Bridge and Tunnel tolls go, so goes the MTA

by Benjamin Kabak

Lost in the discussion about East River tolls and congestion pricing is the great irony of the MTA. Since the tolled bridges into and out of Manhattan are such cash cows, New York City’s public transit network is kept afloat by the same forces many public transit advocates would like to limit.

The history of MTA Bridges and Tunnels is one of Robert Moses. He ushered through the construction of the Triborough Bridge in the 1933s, and over the years, Moses used his position as head of the Triborough Bridge Authority to consolidate toll revenues while increasing his reach.

By the 1960s, Moses was gone; the city’s bridges and tunnels continued to generate large amounts of surplus cash; and the city’s subways were teetering on the brink of collapse. Hence, the MTA was born, and now the city’s bridges and tunnels subsidize mass transit to the tune of $700-$900 million a year.

But what happens when New Yorkers stop driving? That is the question posed by Pete Donohue in a Daily News article today:

The number of drivers using MTA bridges and tunnels has fallen for 12 straight months, another troubling threat to the agency’s bottom line, officials said Wednesday. “I can’t say I remember anything like that,” MTA Bridges and Tunnels Acting President David Moretti said.

The latest statistics show drivers took 25 million trips over bridges and through tunnels last month, down 1.3 million – or 4.8% – from October 2007.

Much of the 12-month slide can be attributed to high gas prices. But last month’s downturn may be the result of commuters no longer having jobs to go to in Manhattan, officials said. Traffic at the MTA’s four Manhattan crossings was down on average about 7% from September to October, even though gas prices had fallen, Moretti said.

Right now, since the fares were raised in March, revenues aren’t down, but if these trends continue into next year and beyond, the MTA will need to raise even more cash. In that regard, I wonder how a congestion pricing plan would come into play. While a congestion fee with guaranteed revenue heading to the MTA could generate upwards of $400 million a year, would enough cars be discouraged from driving to impact the bottom line for the MTA Bridges and Tunnels division?

As congestion pricing plans would allow for tolls to be deducted from the charge to enter the Central Business District, I doubt the MTA would see a decrease in revenue from the bridges and tunnels. But as the economy walks a dangerous tightrope, it will be interesting to see how one of the authority’s biggest sources of revenue fares. Little do we realize that, as the Bridges and Tunnels go, so go the subways.

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Alfred Beech November 13, 2008 - 10:39 am

“By the 1960s, Moses was gone”

Moses remained the head of the TBTA, which managed all the bridges and tunnels now under MTA control until March 1, 1968. Rockefeller tricked him into resigning from the TBTA by promising him a spot on the newly formed MTA, which would have more power (Moses’ Achillies heel), but then reneged on his promise after the MTA came into being.

Kid Twist November 14, 2008 - 10:29 am

Shouldn’t that be RFKBTA?

Marc Shepherd November 13, 2008 - 11:50 am

Rockefeller didn’t quite renege on his promise. Moses was indeed retained by the MTA as a consultant without portfolio. For a while, he continued to show up at his old office every day. What Moses didn’t realize, until it was too late, is that no one in the new management actually wanted his opinion. He was a consultant whom no one consulted with. After a while, he resigned once it became clear that the role had no teeth.

Rockefeller did renege on the bridge across Oyster Bay and Rye, which he’d promised Moses would get built, and that Moses would supervise. By the late 1960s, the political climate for such projects had soured, and people were no longer willing to take Moses’ word for it on things like costs and environmental impact. Rockefeller postponed the bridge a couple of times before finally killing it.


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