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Poll: Most New Yorkers would swap new tolls for better transportation

Traffic crosses the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn toward

Traffic crosses the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn toward Manhattan on Jan. 22, 2014. Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan

Most New Yorkers are willing to pay new tolls at some East River crossings if the state invests in improving the region's transportation system, according to a new poll.

In the poll by nonprofit transportation advocacy groups Move NY and TransitCenter, New Yorkers -- by as much as 2-1 -- said they would support a plan to generate $1.4 billion in new annual transportation revenue for the state by adding tolls at currently-free crossings, including the Brooklyn and Queensboro Bridges. At the same time, the plan calls for tolls to be reduced by as much as 50 percent on crossings such as the Throgs Neck Bridge and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

"We think these poll results are quite positive and encouraging," said Alex Matthiessen, campaign director for Move NY, which unveiled the results Tuesday and will release a final draft of its plan next month. "The idea is to fix the inequity in our current tolling scheme, where you're tolling certain New Yorkers a lot, and you're tolling others not at all."

The plan, first proposed in 2011 by Move NY founder and veteran transit planner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, also entails putting tolls along 60th Street in Manhattan, creating new taxi surcharges and improving transit in underserved communities.

The poll of 1,003 registered voters last month found that 62 percent of people supported the plan, when it was explained to them. The surveyors also gauged voters' opinions on transportation issues and found that more than 80 percent had strong feelings about traffic congestion and high tolls. Seventy-seven percent were similarly concerned about the condition of roads.

Supporters of the plan say it would reduce traffic by eliminating the incentive of toll-free crossings that some motorists drive out of their way to use, reduce harmful emissions and create 30,000 new jobs, all while giving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority a critically important new revenue stream.

The agency is facing a $15 billion shortfall in its proposed 2015-19 $32 billion capital program. It has indicated that further fare and toll hikes could be necessary without a new funding source.

Although the MTA has avoided weighing in on the merits of any funding plan, spokesman Adam Lisberg said Tuesday the authority is "always glad when people discuss how to best pay for the transit system that is essential to the region's economy and is an important part of the daily lives of millions of New Yorkers."

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