Hello MTA Bailout, So Long Truck Tsunami?

truck_route.jpgThe New Jersey "trucker's special." Graphic: Sam Schwartz.
Sheldon Silver's partial endorsement of the Ravitch Commission's MTA rescue plan [PDF], which includes East and Harlem River bridge tolls, offers the best political hope in years for reducing the daily truck tsunami pulverizing downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan.

The truck inundation is due to the great counter-clockwise route that truckers take from New Jersey to Long Island and back to Jersey, to avoid paying the one-way, westbound, “double toll” on the Verrazano Bridge, or the two tolls on the George Washington Bridge and high peak hour tolls at the east bound Lincoln Tunnel. This state of affairs leaves a free path from Long Island to New Jersey across the Manhattan Bridge, over Canal Street, and out of the city via the westbound Lincoln and Holland Tunnels.

Because the trucking diversion -- the legacy of a deal cut on behalf of Staten Island Republicans -- is inherently political, the best policy options are not available. Congestion pricing would have solved the worst of the truck problem, as would restoring two-way tolls on the Verrazano Bridge, at least for trucks. But despite tough going in the State Senate, the MTA financial crisis and Silver's partial endorsement of the Ravitch Commission toll plan may offer some hope for neighborhoods battered by truck traffic, including downtown Brooklyn and western Queens.

Though no details have been released by the MTA, the Ravitch Commission or Sheldon Silver, it is very possible that truck tolls in the rescue plan will be set to match the truck tolls on other major MTA crossings. That would mean EZPass tolls of $20.25 each way for eighteen wheelers crossing the Manhattan, Williamsburg or Queensboro Bridges. (Trucks are not allowed on the Brooklyn Bridge.) This toll would greatly reduce truckers' financial incentive to cut across lower Manhattan on the way to New Jersey or further west. It's not perfect, but certainly enough to alter the time/money calculation so that some truckers will change routes. More effective, but also more politically difficult, ways to eliminate the great circle route include making the new tolls one-way for trucks westbound on the East River bridges and MTA tunnels, or following the Port Authority's lead and placing peak hour truck tolls on the new truck crossings.