Home MTA Bridges and Tunnels Could two-way tolling return to the Verrazano?

Could two-way tolling return to the Verrazano?

by Benjamin Kabak

The booths might be gone, but new technology would allow for high-speed tolling across the Narrows.

A federal decision in 1986 that effectively eliminated two-way tolling across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge may be reversed if Rep. Jerrold Nadler has his way. As the Downtown Express reports this week, Nadler is trying to get legislation passed that would restore two-way tolling across the Verrazano, and a recent technological innovation by the MTA might just make this plan a reality.

Early next year, the MTA will implement cashless tolling on the Henry Hudson Bridge across the Spuyten Duyvil. Using high-speed E-ZPass readers and license plate capture technology, the authority will eliminate all toll gates in a move officials hope will speed up traffic and reduce congestion at the river crossing between the Bronx and Manhattan. If successful — and considering the nationwide use of this technology, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t be — the authority could move quickly to install it on its tolled bridges and tunnels.

Enter Nadler. He wants to use this high-speed, gateless tolling to restore sanity to the New York City traffic scheme. Under his plan, no longer would trucks be able to enter Manhattan for free via Staten Island and leave, for free, via the Holland Tunnel. No longer with unnecessary commercial traffic choke the highways of Brooklyn or the streets of Manhattan.

“The restoration of toll collection in both directions, using electronic tolling innovations that won’t require stops at a toll plaza, would greatly improve traffic and congestion in Brooklyn and Manhattan,” Nadler said. “The two-way toll would eliminate the flow of trucks entering New York City via Staten Island in order to escape the charges on the Hudson River Bridge and tunnel crossings. With the MTA now poised to test new toll-collection technologies, which are likely to be implemented across the region, all New Yorkers will reap the benefits and the MTA will generate new revenue that it sorely needs.”

As Streetsblog recently detailed, federal legislation eliminated two-way tolling in 1986, and Staten Island and its representatives have fought hard to keep it that way even though the rest of the city has to suffer. Nadler, who has called for two-way tolls since his early days in Congress in 1992, proposes to halve the one-way toll and enforce the smaller fee in both directions so frequent drivers on 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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Spencer K October 21, 2010 - 3:08 pm

“…enter New York City for free via Staten Island…”

Aren’t you already in NYC if you’re in Staten Island? ;-D

Edward October 21, 2010 - 3:12 pm

NYC has always been Manhattan-centric.

Staten Islanders just pay their fair share of taxes, work for a living, have a very inadequate public transit system even though the MTA makes a truckload of money from VZ tolls, and yes, we drive to Manhattan or Brooklyn now and then. In today’s climate, that’s cause for being vilified by the anti-car, bike-Nazi crowd. As I said below, gentlemen: start your engines (no pun intended).

Benjamin Kabak October 21, 2010 - 3:14 pm

This isn’t about your cars or your driving. It’s about stopping trucks that are making deliveries from driving through Staten Island and Brooklyn only because it’s free. Why would you want more trucks running through your borough?

J B October 22, 2010 - 10:37 pm

You pay for the Verrazano, but you also get a free ferry. I don’t see how you can complain.

Andrew October 25, 2010 - 10:50 pm

Actually, Staten Islanders don’t even come close to covering their transportation costs. It costs a lot more to provide transit in a suburban setting (e.g., Staten Island) than in a dense urban setting (e.g., much of the other four boroughs), especially when that much of that transit is providing nonstop peak-oriented service directly to the Manhattan CBD. Your buses and trains don’t come close to covering their operating costs and your ferry doesn’t even collect a fare. Recall that operating costs for each bus route (pre-cuts) are all given on pages 8-16 of http://www.mta.info/mta/news/b.....0-nyct.pdf.

I know it makes a great soundbite to say that you pay a whopping $11 toll each time you cross the Verrazano, but, of course, you don’t. You pay $5.48 each time you cross it into Staten Island, and you pay nothing when you cross it into Brooklyn. Brooklyn residents don’t qualify for the resident discount (even if they commute daily to Staten Island); they pay the full $9.14 EZPass westbound toll. And drivers on the five other major B&T facilities pay the exact same rate, except it’s split between eastbound and westbound (i.e., exactly what Jerry Nadler is proposing for the Verrazano), and there are no resident discounts at any of them.

So stop complaining. You have it pretty good. If you don’t like it, perhaps you should move to a place where transit can operate more efficiently.

Edward October 21, 2010 - 3:08 pm

Here we go. Cue the remarks about how Staten Island is clogging up the rest of the city’s roads, as if there were no traffic jams in town before 1986.

Whiners, start your engines!

Benjamin Kabak October 21, 2010 - 3:09 pm

That’s a strawman comment right there. Can you make the argument that the Verrazano Bridge shouldn’t be tolled both ways for a combined total of what the toll is now?

Edward October 21, 2010 - 3:15 pm

Ben, do you know any other word besides “strawman”? You use it way too often.

If the MTA can institute a toll system whereby buses, cars and trucks do not have to slow down and create jams BOTH WAYS, hey, I’m all for it.

Even better, how about reducing the tolls on the VZ by the exact amount that Islanders and other drivers have to pay by taking all that money away from subsidizing Nassau County’s bus system? Makes sense to me.

VLM October 21, 2010 - 3:20 pm

If the MTA can institute a toll system whereby buses, cars and trucks do not have to slow down and create jams BOTH WAYS, hey, I’m all for it.

What exactly do you think high-speed gateless tolling is? It’s amazing how provincial New Yorkers get when it comes to transportation technology that exists throughout the world but not within the boundaries of New York’s five boroughs. The ability to toll without creating traffic jams has existed for decades, but no one in New York has bothered to pay for the initiative of bringing it to the city.

Of course under Nadler’s plan you wouldn’t be forced to slow down on either end of the Verrazano, and the idea would be to implement it in such a way that drivers aren’t paying more than they already have to if they go back and forth across the bridge during the day.

Edward October 21, 2010 - 3:25 pm

I’m well aware of gateless tolling, VLM. The Outerbridge Crossing to NJ has had it for years. Of course, our buddies at the MTA are about 25 years behind every curve you can think of.

My complaint is that, whenever this issue comes up on SAS, there are a bunch of folks who seem to think Staten Islanders are lazy bumpkins who won’t get out of their cars and are somehow raping the rest of NYC by trying to alleviate massive traffic jams in a borough underserved by public transit.

Most postings run along the lines of “if only those selfish Staten Islanders…” then fill in the blank. As if taking every singe ounce of NYC’s trash by truck and barge for over 50 years was such a selfish thing to do. Funny how nobody ever complained about trucks clogging the streets of the other four boroughs when those trucks were bringing your garbage out here.

Selective outrage once again.

J B October 22, 2010 - 10:42 pm

SIers whined (and apparently still whine) about the dump, so why can’t we whine about one-way tolling?

Spencer K October 21, 2010 - 3:21 pm

If trucks are going through Staten Island because it’s cheaper for them, and the tolls change so it’s no longer the best way to go, maybe then there will be less traffic and less jams.

In any case, I find it laughable that you’re talking about traffic jams, and yet I *sometimes* hit traffic on the SI bound side of the bridge but *always* hit traffic leaving SI.

BG October 21, 2010 - 3:20 pm

I don’t understand how there’s really an arbitrage to trucks taking a roundabout route. If they’re coming from anywhere other than Staten Island, they still have to pay the same $8 toll (presumably more for large trucks) to cross into Staten Island on any of the NJ-SI crossings that they would have to pay to go into Manhattan directly.

In some toll systems, there is definitely a problem with one-way tolling–in Sydney, Australia, for example, the main highway to the airport is tolled only in the northbound direction–but it is just a faster route where there are ample surface street substitute options, unlike with a major bridge. As a result, that highway is frequently congested in the free southbound direction but with very little traffic heading north. But in this case all NJ-NY crossings from the George Washington south have the same toll in the same direction; there’s no way to get around it.

Spencer K October 21, 2010 - 3:23 pm

I asked this question when this topic came up months ago, people got irate with me for some reason, but still couldn’t explain it. Hopefully neither will happen here.

Edward October 21, 2010 - 3:28 pm

Good luck with that Spencer. Being anti-Staten Island (for whatever reason) seems to make lots of New York bloggers feel better about themselves.

Benjamin Kabak October 21, 2010 - 3:29 pm

To answer your question, I think it’s an issue of tolls on the Turnpike. It costs around $7-$8 less to get off at Exit 13 (Goethals) for big trucks than it does to take the Holland Tunnel (Exit 14C) or the Lincoln Tunnel (Exit 16). So it’s not just the $8 Goethals toll in a vacuum; it’s also the lower turnpike exit fees when coming from the south. Does that make sense?

Spencer K October 21, 2010 - 3:40 pm

It’s sure a much better explanation than I got last time.

Judge October 21, 2010 - 3:42 pm

Wouldn’t there be a larger impact if the PA were to update its tolling structure instead of the MTA with the VZ? After all, trucks deal with the mentioned distances because many are exiting New York via Manhattan, thanks to the free westbound routes. How much of a difference would two-way tolling on the VZ make to truck traffic?

Edward October 21, 2010 - 3:48 pm

Don’t think all that much, if the MTA implements this system and the PA leaves its tolling structure in place. Also keep in mind that many trucks using the VZ are making deliveries in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, where the VZ makes much more sense than going through Manhattan. Not all the trucks cutting across SI are going to Manhattan, despite what some bloggers may say.

In the end, all those “selfish” Staten Islanders get to share the SI Expway and VZ Bridge with tons of trucks that are NOT making deliveries to SI at all.

VLM October 21, 2010 - 3:52 pm

No one has said all of the trucks are going through Staten Island to only Manhattan and no one other than you has called Staten Islanders selfish. You’re awfully quick to play the role of the victim every time something related to transit and Staten Island comes up. No wonder you think Ben cites a strawman frequently.

Edward October 21, 2010 - 3:56 pm

Check the SAS archives for past comments, and give it a few hours when postings that come in later today start getting nasty and you’ll see what I mean.

BG October 21, 2010 - 3:54 pm

This does help clarify the problem. Given the additional distance and congestion the Staten Island route takes for someone who is Manhattan-bound, I wouldn’t be surprised if the extra tolls are more than outweighed by extra fuel and time in traffic, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if most people were less than rational in thinking about that type of issue.

BrooklynBus October 21, 2010 - 4:43 pm

And it’s even cheaper if you use the Outerbridge instead of the Goethals.

Andrew October 25, 2010 - 10:55 pm

The problem is that the toll structure discourages trucks traveling from Long Island to New Jersey from using any of the tolled MTA facilities – and strongly discourages the use of the Verrazano in particular, which charges a double toll westbound. The cheapest route is through Lower Manhattan, via the toll-free Manhattan or Williamsburg Bridge.

If the Verrazano toll were made bidirectional, the incentive to drive through Lower Manhattan would be halved.

(Really, the toll-free bridges should all be tolled, at a higher price than the non-Manhattan tolled crossings. But I’ll settle for one step at a time.)

Alon Levy October 21, 2010 - 3:53 pm

Question: what’s the point of two-way tolling? If you want to prevent toll-shopping, then make the toll one-way eastbound, like all the PA tolls. If you want to increase the toll, then it’s more efficient (=less tollbooth footprint) to double the one-way toll.

Al D October 21, 2010 - 4:38 pm

Yes, but that’s just it. The e/b toll is what the SI’ers wanted to be rid of. By the way, and not to sound Brooklyn-centric, but shouldn’t Brooklyn residents get the same VZB toll subsidy that SI’ers get? After all, Brooklyn is the other borough that connects to the bridge.

BrooklynBus October 21, 2010 - 4:51 pm

Of course they should, but its the SI politicians with the political power. The excuse Staten Islanders gave is that they always have to pay a toll to get off the Island so they need the break.

Of course a Brooklynite who works in mid or southern Jersey has to pay two tolls each way, not one. They also deserve a break.

BrooklynBus October 21, 2010 - 4:47 pm

One-way eastbound just reverses the traffic congestion. Instead of the trucks using the BQE Northbound (eastbound), the will use it more going south toward Jersey.

Alon Levy October 21, 2010 - 9:27 pm

One-way eastbound makes the tolling consistent: every crossing of the Hudson or Narrows is tolled in the same direction. This reduces the incentive to toll-shop.

The solution to the congestion issue is to aggressively incentivize the use of ez-Pass. If the cash toll is $15 and the ez-Pass toll is $6, then fewer booths will be needed. Two-way tolling doesn’t do anything, because the same amount of congestion coming from the tollbooth slowdown is then replicated on both sides of the bridge; it doesn’t halve the wait time on each side.

Andrew October 25, 2010 - 10:58 pm

The Port Authority bridges and tunnels all charge the same toll. The Verrazano toll is on top of the Outerbridge/Goethals/Bayonne toll.

There’s no need to accept cash at all anymore.

Sharon October 22, 2010 - 8:05 pm

the issue is outbound. Trucks heading out of NYC can cross into NJ FOR FREE by taking the Holland tunnel. When I go to NJ I take the BQE to the Brooklyn Bridge to the Holland to avoid the terrible toll even though it takes and extra 10-15 min to where I am going.

Inbound I take the Goethals to the VZ home. The tolls are excessive especially one way. You see so many trucks heading down the BQE into manhatttan to avoid the VZ tolls. ALL DAY LONG EVERY DAY

John October 21, 2010 - 4:16 pm

PA really doesn’t lose either way, because anyone coming into New York by going through Staten Island is going to have to pay tolls on the Outerbridge, Goethals or Bayonne to get into the borough.

Two way tolling on the Verrazano would benefit the MTA’s coffers, but as far as it being Nadler’s traffic panacea, it’s not as if the truckers are suddenly going to say “Oh hell, the Verrazano’s tolled — let’s not drive into New York City at all to make deliveries and just parachute the stuff into Manhattan.” Instead, they’ll take the fastest in, fastest out route, which will be more inbound traffic from New Jersey on Canal Street eastbound, and on midtown streets headed east from the Lincoln Tunnel. So the MTA wins, and the traffic on the eastbound Staten Island Expressway and the Gowanus drops a bit, but it’s only going to have a miniscule effect on the vehicle count in Nadler’s district.

Edward October 21, 2010 - 4:24 pm

“So the MTA wins, and the traffic on the eastbound Staten Island Expressway and the Gowanus drops a bit.”

Heck, I’m for that! Although less trucks on the VZ = less toll money for the MTA to use elsewhere. If we’re looking for traffic equity here, the PA and MTA should both institute two-way tolls on all it’s bridges and tunnels. But then, the Manhattan crowd will get all up in arms if traffic gets backed up as cars/trucks slow down to pay tolls on the Jersey side. Oh well, no clear-cut answers here.

Al D October 21, 2010 - 4:41 pm

At this point, the whole thing should just be a dead issue. Instead, Nadler should focus more on his freight tunnel and the rest of ‘those in charge’ the congestion pricing to save transit in our area.

Sharon October 22, 2010 - 8:11 pm

Once again congestion pricing will SAVE NOTHING. The TWU and other unions will just DEMAND raises.

The Toll officers (my childhood friend is one) union demand “a piece of the profits” at the TBTA crossings. The answer is fair wages, work rules and common sense management.

Extra money will just be pissed down the drain. Just take a look at all the extra real estate tax revenue got pissed away at the begining of the 2000’s. The union thinks it is there’s. HUGE RAISES, no work rule changes. Every politician used it as a candy store to add bus and train service whether needed or not.

Congestion pricing will chase even more jobs out. Especially if it will turn out to be all day. If it was just rush hour with a state law stating that it could never be expanded, you could use it as a behavior changer for companies to do night deliveries. BUT it is just a liberal tax and spend scheme

Joe October 21, 2010 - 8:02 pm

Can’t SI residents simply get a break on the tolls? Don’t toll them going eastbound. I’m sure if the technology can detect license plates, it can sort out those registered to SI residents.

Zmapper October 21, 2010 - 11:40 pm

Maybe New York needs to do something like what most Midwestern states do. The state is above the number which is above the County Name. Works brilliantly for figuring out where a car is registered.


Andrew October 25, 2010 - 11:00 pm

Why should SI residents get a break on the tolls? They benefit from the bridge, don’t they?

(And in point of fact, they already do get a 40% discount on the tolls!)

Eric F. October 22, 2010 - 9:32 am

“no longer would trucks be able to enter Manhattan for free via Staten Island and leave, for free, via the Holland Tunnel. No longer with unnecessary commercial traffic choke the highways of Brooklyn or the streets of Manhattan.”

Is there any basis for this assertion? I see larger trucks on the Staten Island Expressway and smaller local delivery trucks in lower Manhattan. I don’t see 18 wheelers on Canal Street. Does anyone? Ever?

There should be express lanes on the Staten Island Expressway with no exits in S.I. except for the West Shore Expressway (widened to 3 lanes) and the Goethals (replaced with a larger span). The entire highway is less than 10 miles, and you could guarantee a reliable 10 minute trip the width of S.I. No trucking company in it’s right mind would send its freight over any other route. Time is money.

Mitch45 October 24, 2010 - 10:58 am

Nadler has the biggest jowls on a human I’ve ever seen.


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