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Some commuters would be charged twice under congestion plan

A view of a Robert F. Kennedy Bridge

A view of a Robert F. Kennedy Bridge ramp from East 125th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan on Tuesday. Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

ALBANY — Commuters from Long Island and Queens who take the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and then travel into the proposed congestion pricing district in midtown and lower Manhattan would face double charges under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s state budget proposal.

Cuomo’s Jan. 15 budget proposal omitted the RFK Bridge — as well as the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey — from a plan to provide credits to commuters using bridges and tunnels so they wouldn’t have to pay both a toll and a congestion pricing fee, the administration confirmed. Cuomo didn’t change that in his 30-day amendments to his budget last week, but said the issue would be discussed behind closed doors with legislative leaders.

Cuomo's budget includes credits for commuters using the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Henry Hudson Bridge. Cuomo singled out a few bridges and tunnels for credits because providing credits to all commuters would defeat the purpose of creating a new congestion pricing fee, the administration said. The congestion pricing fee is aimed at reducing traffic going into Manhattan and raising money to fund city subway repairs and improvements.

“The statutory language creates winners and losers,” said Richard Brodsky, who studies state government at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Service at New York University and is a former Democratic assemblyman. "Take the QMT, Holland Tunnel or HHB and you receive a substantial economic benefit. Take the RFK Bridge or the GW Bridge and you don’t … put that on top of the regressive and discriminatory nature of the congestion fee itself and you have every reason to vote no. "

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said he will push for credits for RFK Bridge tolls during budget negotiations, which are underway.

“Ensuring Long Island drivers are not hit twice in the same commute is a top priority during this budget season if congestion pricing is going to be seriously considered,” Kaminsky said.

Cuomo's proposed budget says commuters using the selected bridges and tunnels would be “credited an amount equal to the toll charged to such vehicle for the use of such crossing immediately prior to entry into such zone.”

“If you are coming through a tolled bridge or tunnel and then enter the central business district, that toll will be adjusted,” Cuomo said in a radio interview on Tuesday. “It would be around the central business district and it would account for any toll you paid to get into the central business district."

Cuomo defended the plan not to credit commuters for tolls at the RFK and GW bridges saying few commuters drive from Long Island and Westchester to Manhattan anymore because of the cost, including parking.

The administration argues that the RFK Bridge reaches Manhattan north of 124th Street, well outside the congestion pricing district south of 60th Street. But it said a "variable pricing" plan to be worked out with the legislature could ease the double charging of commuters.

“They may or may not be willing to change," Brodsky said. "We’ll see … that’s what happens when you do stuff in secret.”

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