Taking its Toll

The state is suggesting that it may nearly triple the cost of crossing the Hudson River from Rockland County to Westchester County when it replaces the outdated Tappan Zee Bridge in several years. The new bridge is going to cost some $5 billion, and Governor Cuomo needs to figure out how to pay for it.

The plan to hit up drivers for 14 bucks when they enter Westchester County (the bridge has a one-way toll system) is very likely a trial balloon, similar to the Port Authority’s plan last year to impose huge new hikes on its bridges and tunnels that connect New York and New Jersey. Governors Cuomo and Christie expressed horror and outrage, and the PA, as if on cue, immediately reduced its request, but tolls went up all the same.

That’s the likely scenario for the new Tappan Zee Bridge—the toll will be significantly higher than it is now, but it won’t be as high as the request. That’s how politics works. But here’s the problem: Government is making it increasingly expensive for commuters and commercial traffic, and that’s simply not good news for the city and regional economy.

Visitors from other parts of the country are invariably shocked when they find they have to fork over double-digit tolls for the privilege of using a bridge or a tunnel. Then again, if they find that fee shocking, they undoubtedly fall into a dead faint when they receive their first parking ticket. Welcome to New York.

It’s expensive here, but it’s incumbent on government—especially on quasi-public agencies like the Port Authority—to keep the cost of transportation reasonable. Agencies like the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority often act in an less-than-transparent manner, and the PA has strayed far from its core mission of providing efficient transportation facilities for the New York-New Jersey region.

If the region’s transportation agencies are more concerned with building real estate empires or serving as patronage dumping grounds, they do a huge disservice to the region’s commuters and, therefore, to the regional economy. Like it or not, New York City’s vitality depends on the willingness of millions of New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island residents to make the often-tiresome commute into and out of Manhattan every day. Some Manhattanites sneeringly refer to commuters as the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, as if they are a lower form of life.

But if a significant portion of the region’s commuters decided that they were tired of being seen as a cash cow for unaccountable public transportation agencies, the sidewalks of New York would look very empty indeed, and the economies of New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island would benefit as a result.

New York’s elected officials may deny it, but they have plenty of power over the region’s transportation agencies. Their appointees are on the agencies’ boards, after all. They have to stop playing games and get serious about keeping the cost of commuting affordable. The city’s economy depends on those out-of-towners.