Home MTA Bridges and Tunnels Verrazano’s idle toll booths face the wrecking ball

Verrazano’s idle toll booths face the wrecking ball

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Boris April 19, 2010 - 12:51 pm

The National Highway System Designation Act (A good piece of trivia to know!) is yet another subtle way the federal government screws the cities through the unintended consequence of extra westbound traffic in Manhattan as cars and trucks drive through the tunnels to NJ to avoid tolls.

I wonder why it will take them a year and $2.5 million to remove the toll booths. Just dynamite them one Sunday and then haul away the metal. Shouldn’t take more than a week.

Aaron April 19, 2010 - 1:46 pm

Well, the foundation of the booths probably goes below the roadway so they’re probably going to have to jackhammer into the concrete, remove any foundation, remove the concrete berms, repair that damage, possible restore any damage done to the median by the removal, physically remove the toll booths, re-paint the highway so as to not reflect the toll booths, remove all of the signs that indicate toll booths ahead, and probably re-pave or, more likely, resurface the whole mess while they’re at it because of the mess they will make.

All while I’m sure they’re under a mandate to not close the bridge, so they’ll have to do it one lane at a time during overnight hours. That sounds like a year-long project to me.

Scott E April 19, 2010 - 1:44 pm

Well said Boris, blunt and to the point.

I haven’t encountered any bottlenecks at these abandoned booths. An eyesore, yes. But as four lanes (3 + bus lane) fan out into eleven booth lanes, then to 6 on the bridge, those booths don’t cause a bottleneck — in fact, traffic tends to open up an exit before these booths. (Admittedly, however, I don’t take the bridge during the morning rush). But unless ALL the bridges and tunnels get tolled one way, leaving Brooklyn and Queens (including the free East River crossings), we’ll have the problem Boris describes, where drivers cut through Manhattan to avoid high tolls.

Benjamin Kabak April 19, 2010 - 1:46 pm

But unless ALL the bridges and tunnels get tolled one way, leaving Brooklyn and Queens (including the free East River crossings), we’ll have the problem Boris describes, where drivers cut through Manhattan to avoid high tolls.

Just to be clear, the toll itself was eliminated 25 years ago. This is just the destruction of the toll booths so the MTA can better engineer the on-ramps to the bridge at the Staten Island end. The extra traffic in Manhattan hasn’t been any more of a problem than it already was and still is. Maybe I’m missing your point?

Scott E April 19, 2010 - 2:36 pm

I understand that. What I was thinking (and failed to say) is that I think it would’ve made more sense to reopen the booths and toll $5.50 each way. But with the booths being torn town, that won’t happen.

kim December 31, 2010 - 1:46 am

We all should park our cars on the bridge and not move with the amount they charge to get to brookly. What about people that work on the other side and have to drive the cost is killing me.

Benjamin Kabak December 31, 2010 - 1:52 am

If you’re a Staten Island resident with an E-ZPass, the toll is $5.76, and if you carpool, it’s below $3. That’s not too much more than a round-trip subway ride. If it’s killing you that much, move to the other side.

Veinus April 1, 2011 - 1:55 pm

The solution is easy. Toll the East River bridges; at the least, for trucks. Toll booths are no longer necessary with EZPass and electronic systems available TODAY.

The giant flashing sign that everyone ignores is that traffic can travel for FREE between four of the five boroughs. Staten Island is the only place with a toll REQUIRED to drive between the boroughs. In fact, it’s possible to drive from Rockaway Park to White Plains without paying a single toll, and being on highways for most of the mileage. But just to leave Staten Island, you have to pay (ok, technically you pay on the return trip, but I doubt a significant number of people go one-way)

Al D April 19, 2010 - 2:10 pm

Does 25 years count as better late, or just never? I mean this is pretty ridiculuous. Mr. Molinari wants to reduce congestion on SI, but oh, well, let’s just leave the toll barriers up anyway to slow things down and confuse the uninitiated

It takes brains I tell ya…

Joe from SI April 19, 2010 - 4:39 pm

This really is not an issue, the traffic starts a few exits before the toll booths. There is a giant hill and around 4 entry ramps in an extremely short distance which causes everything to back up. They should pay more attention to the Gothels Bridge that is in danger of collapsing and will have to be closed by 2015.

Benjamin Kabak April 19, 2010 - 4:42 pm

“They” are replacing the Goethals Bridge, but they aren’t the MTA. Here, the MTA is doing what it can to reengineer the Verrazano Bridge in a way that makes sense. Why the complaints?

You can check out the Goethals replacement plans right here.

Al D April 20, 2010 - 2:26 pm

Sure it is because traffic slows again approaching the toll booths and in fact the post speed limit goes down from 50 to between 25 & 35 (I can’t remember the exact number) in the toll plaza where no tolls are collected. Plus, rumble strips are added to encourage the lowered speed limit. Lastly, cars will not pass through the toll structure at highway speed. That and lastly the lousy design of the whole thing has drivers slowing down thus creating the traffic jams behind it.

I agree with you by the way, that Mount Staten Island (second only to Everest it seems judging by the way cars approach it), is a problem. People need to further depress the accelerator pedal to maintain speed up the hill.

Changing the Goethal’s Bridge will do nothing to mitigate this, but a new bridge is desperately needed for so many other reasons. I hope they provision some type of rapid transit for it!

Davide-NYC April 19, 2010 - 4:59 pm

This is the nail in the coffin for Canal Street. I extend a figurative middle finger to all the truck traffic that poisons us on a daily basis.

Cross-Bay tunnel anyone? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.....ail_Tunnel

Benjamin Kabak April 19, 2010 - 5:01 pm

How is removing tool booths that have set unused for 25 years a nail in the coffin of Canal St.? I don’t understand the logic there.

Sean Sweeney April 19, 2010 - 6:51 pm

Davide meant the reversed one-way toll is the ‘middle finger’. Let me explain.

The iniquitous reversed one-way toll instigated by Guy Molinari in 1986 and approved by Mario Cuomo as a political favor is THE chief reason for all the heavy traffic congestion in lower Manhattan and along the BQE in Brooklyn, as motorists – and particularly truckers – use the reversal to completely avoid tolls entering and leaving the city.

This toll evasion over 24 years runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars that the financially strapped MTA could use to keep transit fares low and ensure free service for students.

Instead, a few selfish NYers – Staten Islanders – push the problem to the other boroughs instead of assuming their Fair Share, and pols like Schumer expediently kowtow to these Republican voters to gain a few votes at the expense of our clean air and fiscal necessities – despite campaign promises that he would do the right thing and bring back the Verrazano in line with all the other bridges and tunnels.

Indeed, RE-INSTATE the 2-Way Tolls on the Verrazano.

Eric F, April 19, 2010 - 11:09 pm

Canal Street traffic consists of tons of cars and a small percentage of light trucks. These are not 18 wheelers in lower Manhattan, as you well know. If you want to end the nonsense of a choked Canal Street: First, add capacity to S.I. Expressway, real capacity, like add a 3 lane express route for vehicles not intending to exit on S.I. The fact is that S.I. is no faster than Canal Street because the alignment is utterly inadequate. Second, put cross-Manhattan traffic underground. People going from Harrison to Canarsie don’t want to stop for 12 traffic lights on Canal Street either. Or you can pretend that ‘transit advocacy’ will induce the family of 5 from Harrison to take a bus and three trains each way to and from Canarsie if only we keep making the traffic work. Oh, and all the truck traffic will travel on biodegradable bicycles…

Alon Levy April 20, 2010 - 12:23 am

Second, put cross-Manhattan traffic underground.

How are you going to pay for Big Dig #2?

Eric F. April 20, 2010 - 9:57 am

NYS has a 130 billion dollar annnual budget. Let’s say you can finish a project design-build in 5 years, thus setting a landspeed record. Let’s say the project, which would be, what maybe a mile, would cost $6 $3 billion. Ok, so that is 1/2 of 1% of NYS’s 5 year budget. If, in doing that you made Canal Street a beautiful and desirable, cross-Manhattan thoroughfare, devoid of cross-traffic, and expanded and improved traffic capacity, would it be worth it? Anyway, I think you can also levy a toll on an underground connection, which could at least defray apart of the cost. I’d do something similar on the S.I. Expressway, charging maybe another $5 to get a car or truck at a reliable 60 mph from the VZ to the Goethals with no exits on S.I. an elevated express alignment.

Alon Levy April 20, 2010 - 3:56 pm

$3-6 billion would be a reasonable cost for it, if New York could build it for the same cost as road tunnels in other first-world cities. If that assumption were true, New York would probably not be spending 5-7 times more than any other city on rail tunnels.

But even at $3-6 billion, you need to ask yourself whether it’d have the congestion-reducing effect you predict. All those exits spilling into Canal Street would cause more traffic to come to the area. Canal Street itself would be less congested, but all the roads connecting to it would get much worse.

Aaron April 20, 2010 - 4:27 pm

I know that you like to say that NY overpays for infrastructure, but just thinking about the cost of a Canal St. Big Dig makes my eyes bleed. There are so many utilities to be relocated, so many water table issues and – worst of all – so many shallow subway lines – that tunneling under that whole mess would be a nightmare.

On top of that, assuming that the Magical Tunnel Fairy made direct access to the Holland Tunnel feasible (regrettably, the Magical Tunnel Fairy is busy building LA’s Expo line as a full-length subway), the sharp grade required to bring traffic from below the Nassau BMT to the Manhattan Bridge deck is just terrifying, not to mention that the road has to somehow avoid the BMT Broadway below Canal as the BMT also reaches the bridge deck. I suspect that would require a violation of the laws of physics that only Looney Toons would sanction.

I really think that it would make the engineering of the Big Dig look like a high school science project. If you *really* wanted to connect Brooklyn/Queens and New Jersey via an underground expressway, a connection between the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the Lincoln Tunnel in the high 30s at least doesn’t require an overactive imagination, but again, would be fiscally insane. Having said that, there are so many worthy projects in line in front of any Manhttan highway tunnels that I would rather see regional planners instead try to solve the underlying problem (freight delivery access into Manhattan and Long Island, commuter access from suburban NJ) rather than blow up half of Manhattan in hopes of shoving a highway through.

I’d love to see some numbers on the issue but my guess is that you’re going to get more bang for your transportation buck by further integrating NJ and NYC modes of transit and taking commuters off the roads. Bring more NJ commuters into Manhattan rather than this Hoboken/Secaucus Junction crap, consider NJ commuter rail access to Lower Manhattan (I’ve heard people propose this for LIRR before but don’t know how feasible it is or isn’t for NJT), make PATH more than just an overgrown stub track, etc. etc. etc.

Alon Levy April 20, 2010 - 7:15 pm

Well, yeah, the engineering difficulties are part of the extra cost. But they’re just part…

But anyway, the least costly way to connect Jersey and New York is to send some NJT trains east to Sunnyside and onto the New Haven Line or the LIRR Main Line. The retrofit costs would be trivial – probably in the 7 figures, or low 8 figures at most. Integrating fares would cost a small amount in lost revenue, but would probably pay for itself in extra travel. Integrating schedules would cost a lot in dealing with not-invented-here people, but the actual money cost should be tiny.

Benjamin Kabak April 20, 2010 - 11:57 am

Yeah. I understand how removing the two-way toll on the Verrazano created the Canal St. mess. I thought he meant this was a new middle finger to Canal St. It’s just the same old one.

Edward April 21, 2010 - 11:16 pm

Ben, what many people seem to ignore is that the trucks returning to NJ via Canal St are usually delivering foodstuffs, furniture, pharmaceuticals, etc to Bklyn/Queens, LI and Manhattan. Most trucks that use the Staten Island Expressway and VZ Bridge don’t even stop here. So in effect, Staten Islanders can say that all those Manhattan-bound delivery trucks are poisoning the air on SI with little benefit to the residents out here. I’ve lived in NYC my whole life, and I cannot remember a day when Canal St WASN’T a mess, one-way VZ toll or no.

Andrew April 22, 2010 - 8:10 am

That’s rich. Staten Island is being poisoned because trucks are using an expressway through a suburban area. They should instead use a street through one of the most densely occupied parts of the country, not only poisoning the air for many times more people, but also threatening the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists and occupying large amounts of space (free of charge!) in an area with extremely high land values, where the sidewalks are narrow and there are few parks.

I realize that the concerns of Manhattan residents are irrelevant to you. But many Staten Islanders work in Manhattan. Aren’t you concerned about their health and safety?

Getting back to transit – the B51 bus over the Manhattan Bridge is soon being canceled. It’s expensive to run a bus like the B51 because it spends so much time sitting in traffic – which also reduces its reliability. If there weren’t so many trucks crossing the Manhattan Bridge (to get to New Jersey, not to Manhattan), perhaps the B51 wouldn’t be on the hit list.

Niccolo Machiavelli April 20, 2010 - 11:54 am

The one way toll is an institutionalized perverse incentive made possibke by one way Holland Tunnel tolls and the “free” East River crossings. This is another Emperors new clothes moment.

Duke87 April 20, 2010 - 12:53 pm

Two things to remember:

1) All Hudson River crossings are tolled one-way eastbound/inbound
2) All four bridges leading to Staten Island are tolled one-way entering the island.

Thus, going through New Jersey in order to travel between SI and Manhattan involves paying a toll in both directions no matter what.

The existence of free crossings between Brooklyn and Manhattan does, however, enable a driver to travel from SI to Manhattan without paying a toll… but not on the return trip.

As for a toll discrepancy that would encourage the New Jersey route over the Brooklyn route on the return… well, the Verazanno’s toll is $11 while it’s $8 on the Bayonne Bridge (+90 cents to go between 14C and 14A on the Turnpike spur). It’s not as huge a discrepancy as you might think. $2.10-cost of extra travel on local streets. Just get the Port Authority to raise their tolls a notch and it would vanish entirely.

Niccolo Machiavelli April 20, 2010 - 10:02 pm

Duke, and the rest of the apologists for this system, has to get in the mind of the residents of The Rock who live, breed and die in their four wheeled homes. If you commute by car from Staten Ireland to Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn or even Queens (lots of jobs) you do a complete counter-clockwise around the horn route, VZ to BB, MB or WB or QBB through Manhattan to Jersey for free and return on either the Bayonne or the Goethals Bridge. The only toll you pay is for the return on the PA bridges, either Goethals or Bayone, thats $8 total. If its a truck the savings are enormous. Check out the SI expressway any morning and observe two entire lanes taken up by trucks accessing this perverse incentive. Its another special deal for SI and Jersey trucking companies, let them dump on everyone else because we dumped on Fresh Kills all those years and they have lots of Reagan Republicans over there who threatened to secede. Even when you discount the VZ tolls for them its not good enough for them to actually pay their discounted toll.

A toll both ascends :: Second Ave. Sagas May 7, 2010 - 5:34 pm

[…] publicize the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll booth removal project, the MTA sent along the above photo earlier this week. Taken by Operations Superintendent Marc […]

Could two-way tolling return to the Verrazano? :: Second Ave. Sagas October 21, 2010 - 3:09 pm

[…] the Verrazano Bridge wouldn’t be paying more than they do today. Even as the tollbooths are torn down, this plan is a no-brainer for the sake of congestion, toll revenue and the rest of New York City. […]


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