Hello MTA Bailout, So Long Truck Tsunami?

truck_route.jpgThe New Jersey "trucker’s special." Graphic: Sam Schwartz.

Sheldon Silver’s partial endorsement of the Ravitch Commission’s MTA rescue plan [PDF], which includes East and Harlem River bridge tolls, offers the best political hope
in years for reducing the daily truck
tsunami pulverizing downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan.

The truck inundation is due to the great counter-clockwise route that truckers take from New Jersey to
Long Island and back to Jersey, to avoid paying the one-way, westbound, “double toll” on the
Verrazano Bridge, or the two tolls on the George Washington Bridge and high peak hour tolls at the east bound Lincoln Tunnel. This state of affairs leaves a free path from Long Island to New Jersey across the Manhattan
Bridge, over Canal Street, and out of the city via the
westbound
Lincoln and Holland Tunnels.

Because the trucking diversion — the legacy of a deal cut on behalf of Staten Island Republicans — is inherently political, the
best policy options are not available. Congestion pricing would have solved the worst
of the truck problem, as would restoring two-way tolls on the Verrazano
Bridge, at least for trucks. But despite tough going in the State Senate, the MTA
financial crisis and Silver’s partial endorsement of the Ravitch Commission toll plan
may offer some hope for neighborhoods battered by truck traffic, including downtown Brooklyn and western Queens.

Though no details have been released by the MTA, the Ravitch
Commission or Sheldon Silver, it is very possible that truck tolls in the rescue plan will be set
to match the truck tolls on other major MTA crossings. That would mean EZPass
tolls of $20.25 each way for eighteen wheelers crossing the Manhattan, Williamsburg
or Queensboro Bridges. (Trucks are not
allowed on the Brooklyn Bridge.) This toll would greatly reduce truckers’ financial incentive to cut across lower Manhattan on the way to New Jersey or further west. It’s not perfect, but certainly enough to alter the time/money calculation so that some truckers will change routes. More effective, but also more politically difficult, ways to eliminate the great circle route include making the new tolls one-way for trucks westbound on the East River bridges and MTA tunnels, or following the Port Authority’s lead and placing peak hour truck tolls on the new truck crossings.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The proposed tolls wouldn’t competely eliminate my incentive to got out of my way to use the Brooklyn Bridge rather than taking the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel when driving to Manhattan.

    But I only drive through Manhattan, not to it. For East of Hudson destinations, the cost of going into and out of Manhattan (two tolls) and using the FDR would be equal to using the BQE.

    So the question is which is less congested? If more people were willing to take the BBT to Manhatan and NJ, perhaps the perpetual back-up where everyone moves right to stay on the BQE rather than go left for the tunnel would be alleviated.

  • mfs

    This would also allow the creation of a significant incentive for truck fleets to convert to electric hybrids and ultra low-emissions trucks, if cleaner trucks are given a 50% or 75% discount. The Mayor’s congestion pricing plan would have done this and would have greatly incentivized people to convert. Furthermore, this would create a solid local industry of retrofitting trucks with particulate filters.

  • Bike Dude

    Most arguments I have heard against congestion pricing and East River tolls is that it is a regressive tax, making manhattan more and more of a yuppified, upper-middle class haven. I don’t think this argument will hold up knowing that the tolls will go towards keeping MTA fares (barely) low enough for working stiffs to travel into the city.

  • Shemp

    Even in the great counter-clockwise route, trucks from NJ still pay PA tolls on the Goethals, but that’s it.

  • Manhattan User

    Actually trucks, larger than 20ft are banned from the Holland Tunnel. Not sure about Lincoln Tunnel. My understanding is that the trucks are not going around back into Staten Island, but getting on the Turnpike.

  • Wow, $58? I had no idea it was that steep (or, more to the point, that much of a difference between the two routes).

  • John Kaehny

    Small trucks take Holland big ones Lincoln. No westbound tolls.

  • John,

    Thanks for getting streetsblog to publish Sam Schwartz’ map that illustrates so well why so many cars and trucks pass through western Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.

    These deadbeat drivers and truckers scam the MTA of tolls ranging up to $58, costing us tens of millions in lost revenue, which could be put to use in mass transit projects – not to mention the infrastructure damage, congestion, delays and pollution they generate.

    This toll reversal was sneaked through by Gov Cuomo in 1986 as a sop to Staten Islanders who were whining about the congestion on their side of the toll bridge. The SoHo Alliance filed a lawsuit in 1987 but lost, and then in 1990 D’Amato legislated the tolls permanently as part of the annual Federal Transportation bill.

    Candidate Schumer running against D’Amato in 1998 swore to us that he would overturn D’Amato’s federalizing a local traffic issue once he got elected senator, only to betray us two weeks after he got into office.

    When we excoriated Schumer for his perfidy, he told us that he would change his position back once we had a Dem congress. Furthermore, with EZ- Pass the Islanders rationale has been eliminated completely.

    Yet, we now have that Dem congress and Schumer still kowtows to the Republicans in Staten Island to the detriment of the citizens of the other four boroughs. Isn’t it time we put heat on Schumer to do the right thing and keep his promises?

    Perhaps TransAlt, Streetsblog and community organizers should join to eliminate this loophole that costs this city so much, yet rewards so few. Together we can outvote S.I.

  • Trucks are banned on the Brooklyn Bridge?
    Why don’t they just ban trucks on all City-Owned bridges right now. That wouldn’t solve any other issues (like rescuing the MTA) but it would end the trucker tsunami. (If truckers had to pay MTA tolls though, perhaps revenue on the MTA bridges would go up anyways helping to partially close the shortfall)
    However, long term the city should sell the bridges. There is no political will in the city to charge a toll which at the very least pays for the maintenance of the bridges, if the bridges were in the hands of the MTA then it being at least partially insulated from politics, would charge tolls.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Why don’t they just ban trucks on all City-Owned bridges right now.”

    Because of height restrictions, many trucks can only use the bridges, not the tunnels.

    For example, the height restriction for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is 12’9”; the interstate standard is 14’4″ and some trucks are oversized.

    The larger trucks are needed to move some types of goods into Manhattan, including some construction materials and supplies.

  • mfs

    “Why don’t they just ban trucks on all City-Owned bridges right now.”

    Because then no one in Manhattan could eat.

  • um, sure they could eat…
    triboro? GWB?

    I’m assuming most food and goods sold in Manhattan are coming from Jersey via Port Elizabeth and not from the two remaining farms on Long Island and the two remaining factories in Williamsburg.

  • Isa

    “deadbeat drivers and truckers”?? Assuming that the cyclical trip described above (including pick-ups and deliveries) could take a trucker most of a day, at an average per-mile rate of $.45 (which is actually high), that toll could make a trip to the city actually COST a trucker money. Do you work for free?

  • Consuelo DeGregorio

    First of all lets forget about the tolled bridges for a moment, How about the millions of dollars wasted on the second avenue subway line!!!!!!!!!!!! For what to save a 3-4 block walk and they’ve been on or about 96th street for 2 years. Shut it down. Next 9 Million dollars alotted for subway station cleaning this is crazy!!!!! That is just 2 quick things I’m quite sure there are many many more very wasteful spending habits going on here. If your business is in the hole for 300 million dollars then that business is being run inproperly. Oh and lets no forget about renaming the Triboro for what oh my god that was a waste of a couple of million right there. Tolled bridges would mean less sight seeing cars and more mass transit use, then the trucks would be able to move around much easier than they are now.

    I want a bail out.

  • rich g

    So where is the tolling for trucks coming into Manhattan?  This article was written in 2009 and where are our elected officials?

  • johnwcowan

    Not to save a walk, but to relieve strain on the 4/5/6, the most crowded long-haul subways in the city. Just one line on the East Side is crazy; that part of the system was designed when there were still els on 3rd and 2nd Aves.

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