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40 percent Tappan Zee Bridge toll discount sought for Hudson Valley commuters

Westchester-bound motorists drive through the E-ZPass lanes in

Westchester-bound motorists drive through the E-ZPass lanes in Tarrytown after crossing the Hudson River via the Tappan Zee Bridge. (May 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

With toll hikes looming on the Tappan Zee Bridge, some Hudson Valley lawmakers are pushing for a 40 percent discount on the bridge toll for Westchester and Rockland residents -- no matter how high the current $5 toll climbs.

Proposed legislation would allow cash-only users to purchase discount tokens to use the bridge and would give E-ZPass users discounts on their monthly bills. The legislation would reduce the current $5 toll to $2.85 for residents of Rockland and Westchester.

Assemb. Kenneth Zebrowski (D-New City) said the proposal would mirror the discount program for Staten Island residents who use the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The discounts would soften the impact of any toll increase -- an increase to $14 was discussed last summer, but that suggestion met a storm of criticism and was quickly withdrawn.

"Beyond the construction and bearing the brunt of all that, Rockland County residents are limited in their mass transit options," Zebrowski said.

A companion bill is being sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown). The bill has been referred to the Assembly's committee on corporations, authorities and commissions, where it was first introduced in 2012 but failed to muster support.

On Dec. 17, the State Thruway Authority board selected Tappan Zee Constructors, a Texas-based consortium, to design and build a new Westchester-Rockland span at a cost of $3.9 billion, adding some $800 million in final expenses to the company's $3.1 billion winning bid.

The state's financing plan anticipates securing a low-interest federal loan for half the cost of the project and the issuance of Thruway Authority-backed bonds to pay for the balance. Both funding streams will be paid back through an increase in tolls.

So far, though, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration has not said how high the tolls will go.

A $14 toll would keep the Tappan Zee competitive with New York City's other Hudson River crossings. Under the discount proposal, the $14 ride would go to $7.98.

Zebrowski, for one, believes that residents of the Hudson Valley shouldn't bear such a share of the financial burden involved in building a new bridge because the bridge opens the way for many to travel to upstate New York and New England.

"Just as residents of Manhattan won't have to pay for the Second Avenue subway, my residents shouldn't have to pay for the entire bridge," he said.

Most trips across the bridge begin and end in Westchester and Rockland counties, state statistics show. Nearly 52 percent of trips have a Rockland origin, and Westchester County is a destination for 51 percent, the statistics show.

Thirteen percent of trips begin in Orange County, and 24 percent start in New Jersey.

State officials believe that traffic on a new Tappan Zee Bridge would be heavy even with a hefty toll increase. That's because there are few convenient mass transit options for travel from Westchester to Rockland, and alternate routes like the George Washington Bridge or the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge would add significant time to commutes.

The state anticipates that even a 300 percent increase in tolls would turn away just 9 percent of the 138,000 cars that cross the bridge on an average day.

The Thruway Authority already offers steep discounts for frequent bridge users. Those who use the bridge a minimum of 20 times a month can pay $3 per trip or $60 through E-ZPass. And cars with three or more occupants can pay $10 for 20 trips at 50 cents each. The 50-cent toll is applied only in staffed lanes. The cost is $3 per trip at other lanes.

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