Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday unveiled a plan to eliminate toll gates on New York City’s bridges and tunnels used by 800,000 motorists a day and introduce open road tolling he said would save commuters time and fuel.
The electronic toll system, which would be implemented starting in January, was one of many improvements announced by Cuomo for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bridges and tunnels, including a plan to transform the structures into luminescent works of public art.
The open road tolling system uses sensors and cameras to toll cars that pass through. Motorists without E-ZPass have a photo automatically taken of their license plate, and bills sent to their homes.
The MTA will begin rolling out the system at its crossings in January and aims to have them at place at all 10 of its bridges and tunnels by 2018. “Tolls by Mail” has been in place at the Henry Hudson Bridge since 2012 and is also used along the New York Thruway said Cuomo, who called it a “proven system.”
“We want to build on this accomplishment and bring automatic tolling to every MTA crossing,” Cuomo said. “No more toll booths. No more crossings.”
The plan will effectively eliminate the massive backups caused by cars crawling up to a lowered toll gate, then waiting to go through. Cuomo said the change will save commuters up to 21 hours of a year and conserve a million gallons of fuel annually.
Robert Sinclair Jr., spokesman for the New York chapter of the AAA, said he has concerns about the MTA’s ability to collect tolls from drivers without E-ZPass, particularly those visiting from out of state. But, on the whole, Sinclair said, “the pros outweigh the cons.”
“Certainly it helps traffic to keep moving, which cuts pollution by not having cars sitting there in long lines to pay tolls,” Sinclair said.
Cuomo said that because 94 percent of customers use E-ZPass, only 6 percent are billed by mail. He said about a third of motorists billed by mail never pay their tolls, however the lost revenue is offset by fees incurred by motorists who pay late.
As the MTA makes the improvements to its bridges and tunnels, it will also take the opportunity to beautify the structures with the introduction of several new art and design elements.
Gantries and entryways to bridges and tunnels will be adorned with decorative “veil walls” that will be attractive and functional — serving as noise barriers for neighboring communities and housing security personnel and equipment. Electronic signs will display various messages to drivers. A special construction material will allow the walls to shift patterns in a wind-powered “wave effect.”
New color accents, including sky blue ceilings, and energy efficient lighting, will adorn the inside of the tunnels.
And colorful LED accents will transform area bridges into nightly light shows. A video featured at the announcement showed the luminescent bridges displaying red, white and blue during Independence Day, rainbow colors to honor Gay Pride, and blue and orange to commemorate a Mets World Series win.
Cuomo said the bridges can also coordinate their lighting color and make it the same as the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center and other structures. “It really is limitless,” Cuomo said.
Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator for the Public Art Fund, a non-profit arts organization, said in a statement that it is important to incorporate art “into public space, temporarily altering the city landscape to bring exciting, innovative work into the daily lives of New Yorkers.”
The LED installations are set to begin in January and, combined with the electronic tolling plan, are expected to cost about $500 million. The projects will be included in the MTA’s $27 billion five-year capital program that the state and New York City have committed to funding.
Other planned improvements to MTA bridges and tunnels are enhancements in safety and security, including through cameras with facial-recognition technology and increased patrols, “seismic isolation bearings” that will give bridges added flexibility during earthquakes, and watertight barriers to seal the tunnels from floods. The barriers, which will be funded by $100 billion in federal dollars, will be in place at the Hugh L. Carrey and Queens Midtown tunnels by the end of 2017, state officials said.
CORRECTION: Nicholas Baume was misidentified in a previous version of this story.
Major New York City crossings:
- Throgs Neck Bridge
- Bronx-Whitestone Bridge
- Robert F. Kennedy Bridge
- Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
- Bronx-Whitestone Bridge
- Queens Midtown Tunnel
- Hugh L. Carey Tunnel
- Henry Hudson Bridge
- Marine Parkway–Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge
- Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge