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OpinionEditorial

No tollbooths? Go even further to make area tolls fairer

Cars approach the toll booth at the George

Cars approach the toll booth at the George Washington bridge in Fort Lee, N.J. Millions of drivers will pay $2 more to get into New York City, and commuter train riders will pay an extra 25 cents in hikes. (Jan. 4, 2008) Photo Credit: AP

If you are among the 43.5 million Americans expected to take to the roads this Thanksgiving Day weekend, you know what awaits: traffic. And if the highways are bad, the tollbooths will be worse, especially when you can’t get to an E-ZPass line because of huge backups for the cash lanes. It’s exasperating.

But there is some light in this perennially gloomy forecast: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to eliminate toll gates on the 10 bridges and tunnels operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Imagine sailing through the Midtown Tunnel or crossing the Verrazano and Throgs Neck bridges a little more quickly. Tollbooths will be replaced beginning in January by sensors to read E-ZPass tags, and cameras will take photos of license plates of everyone else and send bills to motorists’ homes.

But we hope that’s not the end of Cuomo’s vision. If open-road tolling works — and it already does on the Henry Hudson Bridge and around the country — don’t stop there. Expand the plan. Get really serious about reducing traffic, pollution and fuel. Put the drive-through tolls on the four East River bridges, too.

The Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensborough bridges are free. That means people in Queens and Brooklyn who have mass transit options are incentivized to use their cars instead, increasing congestion. Tolls on those bridges would take cars off the road, no toll gates would help keep the traffic that remains flowing, and the cash-strapped MTA could get hundreds of millions of dollars yearly to reinvest in bridges, subways and buses.

Then introduce fairness — reduce tolls on the Verrazano, Throgs Neck and Whitestone bridges. That would encourage New Jersey-to-Long Island truckers to take quicker and now-cheaper routes around the city instead of using the Manhattan Bridge to cross lower Manhattan, saving money but clogging arteries. It’s all part of a traffic reduction plan pitched by former city traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz and the Move NY coalition, and it makes sense.

Cuomo is remaking the region’s transportation grid with bold plans for its airports, trains and, now, bridges and tunnels. We hope he takes this new idea all the way and becomes the visionary he fancies himself to be. Then perhaps you’ll arrive at your holiday feast smiling and in the mood to eat it. — The editorial board

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