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EDITORIAL: Bridge tolls rise. How about improvements?

When the Whitestone Bridge opened in 1939, the toll was 25 cents. Now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is risking the ire of motorists by raising the cash-lane tab for its major crossings to $6.50.

But things aren't quite as bad as they look. The E-ZPass price will be just $4.80 - not much more than $3.93, which is what the old 25 cents would be today when adjusted for inflation. And while cash customers are getting hit with an 18 percent increase, E-ZPass users will pay only 5 percent more.

Although painful, the higher penalty for cash users makes sense as a way to encourage adoption of E-ZPass, which cuts congestion and saves money on toll takers. All these increases are frustrating, but the MTA could ease the pain a little by moving as fast as possible to completely automate toll-taking, thereby reducing the maddening delays at its toll plazas, and by maintaining its high-priced bridges and tunnels more effectively, so that traffic isn't always snarled by never-ending roadwork.

The goal of the toll hikes, along with previously approved transit fare increases, is to help close the transportation agency's $900-million budget gap. That has to be done, even if we can't be entirely confident the MTA will spend the money as wisely as it should. hN