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East River Bridges: 100 Years of Free Rides Take Their “Toll”

The NYC Bridge Centennial Commission, co-founded by "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, organized a re-enactment today near the Williamsburg Bridge, calling attention to the hundredth anniversary of the last toll collected on the East River bridges. Mayor William J. Gaynor's century-old decision to eliminate bridge tolls translates to a cumulative loss of $31 billion in potential revenue for NYC.  Tune in to hear what $31 billion could do for the city's transportation system.

 

“Gridlock” Sam Schwartz:  [00:02] I think we made what was a near fatal mistake in 1911 when Mayor William Gaynor removed the tolls from the bridges.  In the mid 1980’s I was appointed the Chief Engineer of all these bridges and when I went underneath this bridge in particular, the Williamsburg Bridge, I found the steel was paper thin.  It looked like this, paper thin steel on this bridge.  This is why we had to close the bridge.  The bridge came close to collapse. 

 

Noah Budnick:  [00:34] The East River Bridge tolls are the friend of the common man.  They are what provide a consistent amount of money to the city to keep up the necessary infrastructure that helps New Yorkers get around.  Nobody wants to be stuck in traffic but everybody needs to get where they’re going, and without funding everybody’s stuck. 

 

“Gridlock” Sam Schwartz:  [00:52] Had we kept that ten cent toll and then in 1960 kept pace with the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, we would have in present day dollars $31 billion.  Imagine what we could have done with $31 billion in this past century. 

 

Cate Contino:  [01:13] It could have paid for Second Avenue subway.  A subway to Staten Island.  Express transit to JFK.  You name it, the sky’s the limit.  $31 billion of revenue that could have kept the bridges in perfect working order while funding transit projects that would have made New York City move like a well oiled machine. 

 

Michael Miscione:  [01:33] We should remember our history.  I mean bridge tolls, for better or for worse, are a thing in the news but they’re not something that was just invented with the news cycle, this is a 100 year old issue. 

 

“Gridlock” Sam Schwartz:  [01:44] In those days I would look over at my colleagues at the Verrazano Bridge and they would paint the bridge continuously, and once they finish they would start again.  At the George Washington Bridge my colleagues at the Port Authority, they would be lubricating the bridge on a daily basis.  And the difference?  They had tolls across those bridges.  They had a dedicated revenue stream.  We had no dedicated revenue stream.  So that’s why it’s important today to mark the day that the tolls were removed on the East River Bridges and make the case that we have to put them back so that we can maintain these great bridges.   

Transcription Sponsored by: Transcript Divas Transcription Services

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/7995989@N03/ J

    Who are you, Dr. Evil?  31 MILLLLLION DOLLARS is very different than 31 B-B-B-BILLION.  

  • Clarence Eckerson

    Thanks J!  Corrected the second one to say B-I-L-L-L-L-L-I-O-N dollars.  :)

  • Will

    Put the tolls back!  How is it fair that it is cheaper to drive across a bridge than to take a subway across a bridge  EZ-Pass and plate readers eliminate toll booths...WHY will the city not do this instead of an overly complex and untested system currently under review?

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Nice hat Sam!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/7995989@N03/ J

    Awesome. Keep rockin out those videos!