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Brooklyn lawmakers push for Verrazzano Bridge toll discounts

Legislation would offer discounts to Brooklyn residents who cross the span to Staten Island at least 10 times each month.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, center, is joined by

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, center, is joined by State Sen. Diane Savino, left, City Councilman Justin Brannan, and Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus, right, under the Verrazzano-Narraows Bridge in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on Tuesday to announce new legislation to provide toll discounts to Brooklyn residents who travel across the span at least 10 times a month. Photo Credit: Vincent Barone

Brooklyn representatives are pushing for more carve-outs for the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge toll.

A new proposal would provide discounts for Brooklyn residents who cross the span to Staten Island at least 10 times each month. State Sens. Andrew Gounardes and Diane Savino are sponsoring legislation alongside Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus to enact the carve-out, which they say will bring “toll equity” between Brooklynites and the Staten Islanders who already benefit from discounted Verrazzano rates.

“We have so many people, especially here in southern Brooklyn, who have to cross the bridge every single day, or multiple times a week, to go to work; go to school; go take care of family members or go do whatever else,” said Gounardes, who described the bridge’s $19 cash toll as “highway robbery”— though most residents on either side of the bridge already pay lower tolls via E-ZPass discounts.

E-ZPass users currently pay $12.24 to cross the span into Staten Island under the toll hikes that went into effect at the end of March. Staten Islanders who are tolled at least three times per month pay $5.50. The legislation would offer the exact same discounts to more “regular” Verrazzano commuters from Brooklyn.

State lawmakers have pushed for Verrazzano discounts in Brooklyn for years to no avail. Gounardes said he feels this legislation is more palatable because it’s “a bit more targeted” in its crossing requirement.

City Councilman Justin Brannan joined the three legislators in championing the legislation. They argued that the toll relief was only fair for Brooklyn residents and disagreed with the idea that the lower rates would encourage more traffic.

Ben Fried, the spokesman at the nonprofit TransitCenter, said the legislation would lead to more drivers, which sends the wrong message as the MTA works to implement a congestion pricing plan by the end of 2020. He added that it was much easier to justify the discount for Staten Islanders, who have fewer options to leave the borough.

“Right now we’re trying to establish the principle that the congestion toll should have integrity,” Fried said. “The last thing we need is a new toll entitlement that makes people feel like carve-outs should be the norm.”

The MTA declined to comment on the pending legislation. 

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