By Colin Mixson
They want to build a wall — and make New Jersey pay for it!
The Feds must once again charge Brooklyn-bound drivers traversing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge its famously exorbitant toll when a cashless collection system is put in place this summer — if only to ensure New Jersey commuters stay off Brooklyn streets, a Park Slope panel demanded this week.
Community Board 6’s district manager says that Jerseyites have for too long been clogging up Brooklyn highways and byways while en route to Manhattan, spewing exhaust and littering the streets thanks to a two-decade old law that allowed them free passage into the borough via the city’s longest span.
“What is left now is an economic-biased travel decision which favors the ‘free’ flow of traffic from Staten Island to Brooklyn which passes through our district especially during the morning rush hour,” wrote Community Board 6 district manager Craig Hammerman in a letter to Gov. Cuomo. “Our highways are regularly congested.”
The current one-way toll for Staten Island-bound traffic dates back to 1986 when Islanders, claiming idling cars waiting to pay the Brooklyn-bound toll were causing too much pollution, convinced Congress to pass a law demanding the once-two-way toll be collected only when vehicles came to the Rock. That gave New Jersey drivers the ability to leap-frog into Manhattan through Staten Island and Brooklyn for free, bypassing the Verrazano toll by circling to the Holland tunnel when they head home to Monmouth County.
But this summer, the Verrazano is getting a cashless toll system — where cameras record license plates as drivers zoom by — making concerns about booth-induced smog a thing of the past, and creating an opportunity to start hitting Jersey drivers where it hurts, Hammerman argues.
It is a change people down in Bay Ridge have been demanding for years, according to local leaders.
“CB10 has consistently in the past few years voted in support of restoring two-way tolls,” said Community Board 10 district manager Josephine Beckmann. “We have backups at every single exit ramp in the morning.”
But Rep. Dan Donovan (R–Bay Ridge), who also represents all of Staten Island, vowed to oppose any measure to restore the two-way toll until he’s seen data proving that the change would decrease traffic and increase revenue, according to spokesman Patrick Ryan.
CB6’s letter to the governor requested a study to determine the effect of a two-way toll, but until then, the change will be a tough sell to Staten Island voters, according to Ryan.
“I think that with any constituency when you propose changing something that’s been in effect 30 years, all these theories come up that it’s going to be worse because of X-Y-Z,” Ryan said. “But if you can say ‘We’re going to get X amount of revenue we can use for this project,’ that makes it easier to discuss.”
Rep. and Trumpbuster Jerry Nadler (D–Gowanus), meanwhile, has been a longtime supporter of the two-way toll, but came under fire from constituents after he failed to bring back the two-way toll when the House and Senate were controlled by Democrats during the early years of Obama’s first term, according to one activist.
“The Dems had a veto-proof Congress and Nadler failed to do what he had promised his constituents,” said Carl Rosenstein, a Manhattanite who created a group called Trees Not Trucks to combat commercial trucking traffic caused by the one-way toll.
But ramming the change through Congress is more difficult than it seems, because it needs to be tacked onto more substantial transportation legislation, which didn’t materialize during the two-year window, according to Nadler’s district director Robert Gottheim.
But with the new toll technology and President Trump championing new highway infrastructure programs, Nadler sees both the will and a way to realize a two-way toll on the Verrazano on the horizon, Gottheim said.
“Looking forward, there’s a strong chance this can be done,” he said.
Cuomo’s office did not return requests for comment.
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