As I wrote last week, the State and the City of New York have been underfunding the MTA for the past fifteen years, but they seem to have enough money that they plan to spend $500 million to rebuild the Brooklyn Bridge, $700 million to rebuild the Kosciuszko Bridge, $1 billion to rebuild the Goethals Bridge and $250 million to rebuild the BQE just south of the Brooklyn Bridge in Carroll Gardens. That $2.4 billion they plan to spend on the roads could fill the $400 million hole in the MTA budget for six years - or even pay back some of the MTA's crushing debt. And that's not even touching the $10 billion the state plans to spend to rebuild the Tappan Zee Bridge and a section of the Thruway.
Even worse, much of this money isn't even allocated for reconstructing the bridges or highways, but for widening them. As I wrote before, the State DOT is fond of lying about their control over a highway. They claim that the highways and bridges need to be "modernized" and "brought up to standards" for safety reasons, but each of these facilities is capable of carrying two lanes of traffic with plenty of room. They're only unsafe because the DOT has tried to cram three lanes in where there's only enough space for two.
In the case of the Major Deegan, canceling the widening saved the State between $100 and $170 million dollars, about half the cost of the project. If that's true of the other projects, we could save $1.2 billion just by doing that. Of course, nobody seems to know what happened to the money saved from the Deegan widening, so the DOT would probably try to hang onto that money and use it for highways upstate, but if the Governor were determined he could put a stop to that.
Whether it's $2.4 billion or only $1.2 billion, a big chunk will come from general sales and income taxes paid by people who don't even drive. With our current climate situation, to make transit riders pay to widen highways for the elites, worsening the air, wasting gasoline, increasing congestion and inviting more death and destruction onto our streets, is downright criminal.
If drivers are going to get good roads, and wider roads, they should pay something for them. At one point there were tolls on all the East River bridges and even the Kosciuszko's predecessor, the Penny Bridge. In 1911, Mayor Gaynor removed the nickel toll on the East River Bridges, apparently reasoning that the cost of constructing the bridges had already been raised. Since then we have had to pay billions to maintain and reconstruct those bridges.
"Gridlock Sam" Schwartz has proposed removing tolls from all the bridges in the city that don't either cross the Hudson or enter the Manhattan central business districts. As a compromise to get congestion pricing to pass, it might have been worth it, but without tolls on the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges, it would be a disaster, and in fact the lack of a toll on the Kosciuszko is still bad for Brooklyn and Queens.
Some people seem confused as to why the state and city would have to contribute to the MTA's funding. In part it's because we insist on such a low fare for the MTA, and in part because we contribute so much to the competing bridges. We should not continue to use general sales and income tax dollars to maintain and widen roads and bridges for people who think they're too good to take the train. If there isn't a toll on the East River bridges, there should be a toll on the Kosciuszko. And if the legislature won't agree to any tolls, then we shouldn't pay to maintain the bridges. Just close them, like the Champlain Bridge, until the drivers agree to pay.