Verrazano Bridge toll deal spells relief for Staten Islanders

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which was the world's largest

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which was the world's largest suspension bridge when it was completed in 1964, is a dramatic backdrop for the neighborhood. Here it is seen looking south along Fifth Avenue. (May. 10, 2013) (Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)

Crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge would cost a little less for Staten Islanders and some commercial drivers under a deal reached between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers.

If approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board at its Feb. 26 meeting, the discounted toll for Staten Island residents who use E-ZPass would drop to $5.50 from the current $6 or $6.36 per trip, depending on frequency of travel.

Truck drivers who cross the bridge more than 10 times a month would see tolls slashed by 20 percent. For example, the toll for a two-axle truck would drop to $15.43 from the current $19.24. The toll for a seven-axle truck would cost $58.98 instead of the current $73.52.

The discounted rates would take effect April 1.

"This toll relief will allow Staten Islanders to keep more of their money on the island and will make a real difference for companies that rely on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to keep their business thriving," Cuomo said in a statement.

The deal, announced Thursday, was praised by locals for easing the financial burden of small-business owners and criticized by transportation advocates as shortsighted.

Unlike New York City's other four boroughs, Staten Island's 471,000 residents face limited transit options. What they need, according to Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, is better and faster bus service and more investment in long-term transit projects.

"Instead, this toll reduction will encourage more driving, traffic, and congestion," she said.

Small-business owners, however, have lobbied their state lawmakers for the toll decrease for many years and are glad help has finally arrived, said Linda Baran, president of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce.

Members of her group, including salt distributors, car dealerships and printers, spend thousands of dollars a month in tolls. One carting company, Baran said, spent $10,000 a month in tolls.

"We're really struggling out here," she said.

But the financial assistance may be temporary.

The proposal will cost $14 million, with $7 million coming from the state budget and the other $7 million from the MTA budget. If funding for the program is cut in future years, the relief lawmakers touted Thursday would disappear.

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