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Albany's Sheldon Silver leans toward okaying tolls to cross East River


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A plan to save straphangers from whopping fare hikes and service cuts by tolling the city's free bridges appeared to gain support among Assembly Democrats Thursday.


Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said he was encouraged by the reception to his idea to set East and Harlem river bridge tolls at the same price as a subway ride, now $2.


"I'm moving forward because I received a lot of positive feedback from the members," Silver said.


"While there's been no final conclusion, so far there's been a fairly positive reaction."


Silver said he favors tolls in each direction to mirror bus and subway travel.


The plan is part of a larger MTA bailout package that also includes an employer-paid payroll tax.


It is meeting stiff opposition from Senate Democrats, who have raised the spectre of a commuter tax instead.


Legislation would require approval by the Senate, where the slim Democratic 32-30 majority leaves no room for dissent.


The MTA runs the nation's largest mass transportation network, carrying more than 8 million subway, bus and commuter train riders each weekday.


Transit officials say massive budget gaps and a legal mandate to pass a balanced budget leave few choices.


The MTA board in December adopted a doomsday budget with fare and toll hikes as high as 23%. Fare hikes would begin in June with a monthly MetroCard, now $81, possibly rising to $103.


Service cuts, which would hit in May, include eliminating 21 local bus routes, closing a handful of lower Manhattan subway stations overnight and shutting two subway lines.


Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat, described Silver's proposal as "an enormous step in the right direction."


"I think you are seeing the Assembly move toward a consensus around a specific plan," Brodsky said.


Brodsky and others said they were hopeful that legislation could soon emerge.


Gov. Paterson and other officials have said they want to settle on a bailout plan by the end of next week. Bills can't be voted on until three days after introduction.


The goal is not just to rescue riders but maintain and upgrade the transit network because of its importance to the regional economy.


Some state senators Thursday said they were considering raising the possibility of a commuter tax paid by out-of-city railroad riders as an alternative to tolls.


Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) was one of several Democrats who remained adamantly opposed to tolls.


He called them an unfair tax on outer-borough residents and said business owners shouldn't have to pay to work, visit doctors or make other trips.


BY Glenn Blain and Pete Donohue


February 27th 2009



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Hugely trafficked routes are toll everywhere else, why shouldn't the bridges be? I mean, they will increase funds available to maintain the bridges, which need some serious restoration work if people want to keep using them.


That alone is a good reason, aside from reducing SOME traffic, and getting funds for mass transit.


- A

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