The MTA on Friday approved an expedited plan from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to automate all agency toll booths by the end of 2017. This follows board members questioning funding sources earlier in the week.
When the $500 million plan to replace all toll booths with cameras and scanners — a traffic decongestion project that the governor unveiled earlier this month — came up for committee approval Wednesday, it raised the eyebrows of several board members, including Veronica Vanterpool and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who said they were unclear how the cash-strapped agency would pay for the project.
But between Wednesday and Friday, skeptical board members said they were appropriately briefed on funding sources and felt comfortable approving the plan within the same month it was unveiled.
“The spirit of my questions was really making sure that there was no significant increase in our existing capital program to move a project that I support forward,” said Vanterpool, who is also the executive director at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I am convinced that the existing capital program, and the way that funds are being reallocated, is not an undue burden to our existing capital program.”
The approval means that the MTA will skip competitive bidding and move ahead more quickly with TransCore, the company that has implemented the Open Road Tolling pilot on the Henry Hudson Bridge, to bring its operations to the other seven MTA bridges and tunnels.
MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said the pilot was proof that automated tolls could work across the network.
“Anybody who’s been on one of the Bridge and Tunnel facilities on Mother’s Day knows that the backups from those traffic jams are ones that could be eliminated with Open Road Tolling,” Prendergast said. “There’s exceptionally strong consensus support for the move.”
When asked to share specific funding sources with the public, he said it would be put in writing in the near future. The MTA has said that all but about $35 million of the project would be funded through savings from previous capital plans and the reallocation of funds that were to be spent on rehabilitating aging toll booths.
“We cannot forget our motorists,” Prendergast said. He reasoned that between $900 million and $1 billion from toll revenue is transferred to fund other MTA operations, including subways and bus service.
Trottenberg, who supports the toll automation plan, said that the MTA’s aggressive approach to toll reforms is lacking when it comes to fixing the MTA’s bus system, which has endured sharp decreases in ridership over the years.
“I’d like to see the same sense of urgency and can-do spirit on the bus rider side of the equation,” she said after the meeting, pressing for better implementation of the proven aspects of Select Bus Service.
“I’ve seen with Select Bus Service an increase in ridership and improved bus speeds,” Trottenberg continued, noting that her agency is partially responsible for bus performance. “I have sympathy for the fact the MTA has an enormous number of stations and card dispensers, but I feel like we’re not moving with all the urgency that we can be.”