MTA: The $2 toll canard

| NY Torch

Before Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith stalled the plan yesterday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had come up with a compromise idea to raise new money for the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority: charge a $2 toll for drivers to cross the East and Harlem River bridges, rather than the $4-plus toll that Gov. Paterson’s commission had originally asked for.

But this compromise, if it ever happens, would be less of a compromise than it seems.

As the bill that the governor has submitted to the legislature says, once the state has allowed the city to transfer the currently free bridges to the MTA, the MTA “may establish, levy and collect … tolls … as it may deem necessary, convenient, or desirable for the use of operation of any transportation facility, including the Harlem and East River Bridges.”

So, the day after the city had transferred the bridges to the MTA, the MTA could announce that it was doubling the $2 toll to be closer to the level of tolls charged on the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and others.

It would still have to go through the public hearing process, but that’s about it; it would not need further formal political approval.

This idea makes financial sense. A $2 toll probably isn’t worth the effort of building the toll-collection infrastructure and taking over the responsibility for maintaining the bridges.

It also makes political sense. Silver, Paterson, et. al. could blame the MTA for future toll hikes after having approved the initial, low toll.

Another tidbit: Upon the proposed transfer of the bridges from the city to the MTA, the governor’s proposal directs “the city of New York [to] provide to metropolitan transportation authority any and all city, state, or federal funds programmed on or prior to the date of transfer of such Harlem and East River Bridges to metropolitan transportation authority, for the design, maintenance, repair, improvement, rehabilitation or reconstruction of such bridges.”*

That would seem to mean that the city would still foot its part of the cost for the $500 million Brooklyn Bridge repair that it’s slated to start next year.

*The strange capitalization is from the original bill.