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New NYC congestion pricing idea gains favor

An aerial view of the Brooklyn Bridge and

An aerial view of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge as seen from a helicopter on Aug. 30, 2013. Credit: Charles Eckert

Foes of the Bloomberg administration's failed attempt to toll the East River bridges and charge motorists driving into Manhattan's core are warming to a new plan that adds sweeteners such as money for road repair and toll reductions on some crossings serving the outer boroughs.

A revived congestion-pricing proposal would charge drivers entering the city's central business district -- south of 60th Street -- $10.66 on E-ZPass. Taxicab rides south of 96th Street would also cost more depending on the time and day.

The plan, called "Move NY: A Proposal to Re-Invest in New York City's Transportation Infrastructure," would implement what it describes as a "toll swap": Some crossings would see higher tolls, while others would go down, depending on factors like proximity to mass-transit options.

Currently, for example, the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge is free to cross, while the Verrazano-Narrows is $10.66 with E-ZPass for a round-trip.

The plan would charge $5.66 for a round-trip on the Queensboro -- $10.66 if the vehicle goes into the business district -- and the Verrazano would be $5.66 for a round-trip instead of $10.66, as would the Robert F. Kennedy, Bronx-Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges.

Opponents of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan helped defeat it in Albany. What's different this time is the kind of past critics lining up in cautious support: AAA New York and the New York State Motor Truck Association.

Kevin Law of the Long Island Association, the suburban region's biggest business group, said Friday he wasn't opposed and would bring the plan back to the LIA's board.

"We have acknowledged that our infrastructure needs to be enhanced -- not just maintained, it needs to be enhanced. Everybody is probably in universal agreement on that," Law said. "Where the disagreement or the lack of consensus always comes is, how do you pay for it?"

He called the plan more "palatable" than Bloomberg's version or a commuter tax. Regional Plan Association chairman Lee Sander also endorsed it.

About a quarter of the expected $1.5 billion in annual revenue would fund road and bridge repairs, said environmentalist Alex Matthiessen, one of the backers of the plan, which was written by Sam Schwartz, a former city transportation commissioner.

Albany leaders' support would be necessary. The offices of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) did not return calls for comment. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) hasn't seen the report, a spokesman said.

The proceeds also would help fund suburban counties' bus systems, including Suffolk and Nassau, Matthiessen said.

Mayor Bill De Blasio said he had spoken to Schwartz about the plan, calling it "interesting and innovative" and "an honest and positive contribution to the dialogue."

The mayor said he looks "forward to talking to him more about it," but added: "I've never been in favor of tolling the East River bridges."

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