Automated toll booth project funding a concern for MTA board members

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to eliminate toll booths is not getting an easy pass.

MTA board members, including the city’s Department of Transportation commissioner, have raised concerns over funding sources and implementation of the plan to automate tolling at all agency bridges and tunnels.

Before voting on a motion that would allow the agency to begin the process of replacing toll booths at the MTA’s two tunnels, the Queens Midtown and Hugh L. Carey, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and other board members said they had little information regarding funding sources for the projects, estimated to cost about $513 million, and how much of an impact fully automated tolls would have on toll collection.

“This is a half-billion dollar project,” Trottenberg said during an MTA Bridge and Tunnel committee meeting Wednesday. “I feel like I’m craving a little more documentation on something that is, I think, a pretty massive rearranging of the capital plan…I don’t have enough information to understand what we’re doing.

“I feel like there’s less detail about this proposal than we just got on a bus rerouting of two blocks,” Trottenberg quipped, referring to information offered in a relatively minor plan to reroute the Q59 bus in Williamsburg.

The state-run MTA said that nearly all of the funding for the project, about $478 million, would be sourced from savings from previous capital plans and other operating efficiencies. The MTA offered an example of an “efficiency”: If money had been allocated to replace aging toll booths, it could be reallocated to Cuomo’s plan to remove that infrastructure in favor of the cameras and scanners that will be used for toll automation.

Even though Trottenberg and board member Veronica Venterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation campaign, said they support the idea of replacing toll booths with cameras and scanners for stop-less tolling, Vanterpool said the expedited schedule was “troublesome.”

“We’re being asked to vote on something in this committee … for which we don’t know the full cost of,” Vanterpool said.

Donald Spero, the president of MTA Bridges & Tunnels, emphasized that the committee vote would just approve the motion for a full board vote. After the motion approved, MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said he would work to get committee members funding details before the board meeting on Friday.

“To the degree to which we can make sure that we have exact numbers, in terms of what the cost will be, we will provide that,” Prendergast said. “We’re moving aggressively forward … I’m committing to the board to get that information to you before the board meeting.”