Would Bridge Tolls Need Seven-Month Approval Process? [Update: No]

We’re awaiting a response to this question, but it seems that Dick Ravitch and Governor Paterson’s plan to toll the East River and Harlem River bridges could very well need to go through the city’s land-use approval process. [Update: We’ve gotten a response and apparently it can be bypassed—see below]

Why is this significant? The process takes about seven months, and requires City Council approval, and thus it would not bring the M.T.A. the immediate revenue Mr. Ravitch suggested it needed.

The Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) is required by the City Charter for every “Sale, lease (other than the lease of office space), exchange, or other disposition of the real property of the city.” (The city owns the East River and Harlem River bridges.) The ULURP requires hearings and non-binding recommendations from the community boards and the borough presidents, and then mandates approvals from the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

We have a question out to the city on this point; a spokeswoman for Mr. Paterson said this issue and others were being worked out between the governor’s office, the city and the Legislature.

As for the state Legislature, the bridge tolls would require that body’s approval, according to city officials. Given the way Albany traditionally functions, a "home-rule" vote by the City Council is likely on the issue.

The state can override city zoning regulations, circumventing the ULURP process, but it’s unclear to us whether or not that could apply here, and if so, whether the state will proceed in that manner.

Update 4 p.m.

Apparently the city does not, in fact, need to go through the land-use process, and the state could proceed on the bridge tolling plan as fast as a bill could get written and approved (if that ever happens).

A city official familiar with the needed approvals just filled us in on the details, and it seems the Legislature could effectively override that lengthy ULURP.

Legislative approval of the tolls plan would be needed for two reasons, the official said. First, the city cannot just transfer or sell bridges without approval as streets are “alienable” properties—like parkland. Second, law requires that the city hold an auction when it disposes of property, a provision that could be bypassed with legislation.

In writing the law, the Legislature could allow the plan to go into effect without needing ULURP.

Would Bridge Tolls Need Seven-Month Approval Process? [Update: No]