Governor Andrew Cuomo has drawn a lot of attention for just how much it might cost to cross a new Tappan Zee Bridge, but it turns out the administration is also mulling tolls on a few other spans: those crossing the East River.
In the spring, Sam Schwartz, the former city DOT commissioner, unveiled a new plan for tolls throughout the five boroughs, though the main focus is the East River bridges. Mr. Schwartz calls it “The Fair Plan: a More Equitable Formula for the New York Metro Area.” He is insistent people not call it congestion pricing, a reasonable point since the last push for charges on drivers entering the central part of Manhattan died a very public death four years ago. Political motivations abounded, a risk he is trying to tamp down.
On Monday, Mr. Schwartz took his plan for tolls—a few more dollars here, a few less there, add a toll for bikes, discourage trucks on surface roads, so on and so forth—to the City Planning Commission. It was warmly received by City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, who hoped Mr. Schwartz could find the political will necessary to realize his proposal.
Mr. Schwartz said he had reached out to a number of the 2013 mayoral hopefuls, including Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson and Scott Stringer, though only Mr. Stringer had so far met with the former transportation commish to discuss his plan.
But there was one other pol Mr. Schwartz has been talking to that few might have expect—the governor.
This may come as a surprise, because the governor was asked about the plan in the spring and was not crazy about it at the time, as Mr. Schwartz recounted before the planning commissioners. “Somebody asked ‘What do you think of Sam’s congestion pricing plan?’ and the governor said ‘There’s no political support for congestion pricing,’” Mr. Schwartz explained. “So, that’s why I do that little talk at the very beginning, explaining that this is not congestion pricing.”
But the situation has changed.
“Since then, I’ve spoken with the governor, and I’ve spoken to a lot of his top aides, and they are studying this,” Mr. Schwartz said. “I can’t say they are coming out in support, but absolutely they are taking it seriously.”
A Cuomo spokesman confirmed that the administration is, in his words, “reviewing the proposal,” though he declined to characterize at what stage the review was or the governor’s position on it.
Whether the governor will ultimately support the plan is hard to say. After all, he is not only taking heat for tolls on the new Tappan Zee Bridge (tentatively pegged at $14 a trip), but he and Governor Chris Christie were also criticized when the Port Authority decided to raise its tolls on Hudson River crossings last year.
Tolls are clearly a tenuous issue, but so too is congestion in Manhattan. If one thing is certain, it is that this will likely become an election year issue for mayoral candidates and maybe even Albany politicians. And that is exactly how Sam Schwartz wants it.