IN THE NEWS: Fine points of Port Authority toll plan reveal a better deal for Staten Island drivers

Andrew J Lanza

June 26, 2012

Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 6:02 AM

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The good news just got better.

The two state lawmakers here who worked with the Cuomo administration to craft the residential toll discount plan for P.A. bridges today shed additional light on the savings Staten Island drivers can expect.

The $4.75 toll drivers will pay for the third trip they make over the spans will be retroactive for the first two trips, state Sen. Andrew Lanza and Assemblyman Michael Cusick said.

That means drivers will get a rebate of $4.75 on the initial $9.50 E-ZPass tolls they shell out for the first two trips they make in a 30-day period over the Goethals and Bayonne bridges and Outerbridge Crossing, Lanza (R-Staten Island) and Cusick (D-Mid-Island) told the Advance.

And the current 10-trip Staten Island Bridges Plan reverts to a three-trip plan, the lawmakers explained.

Islanders already signed up for the 10-trip Bridges Plan don't have to sign up again, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said.

But Islanders who are not currently on the Bridges Plan roster will have to sign up for the new three-trip plan, Coleman added.

Meanwhile, details are still being worked out on how to handle peak, off-peak and car-pool trip combos with the new toll break. The three-trip toll discount is set to be implemented within 30 to 60 days of an expected affirmative vote by the P.A. board Thursday.

Exactly how and when Islanders who want to sign up is being worked out, too.

Lanza and Cusick formed a bi-partisan tag team to negotiate a change in bridges tolls with P.A. executive director Patrick Foye and Gov. Andrew Cuomo -- who announced the new plan last Friday.

"We want to do everything we can to make the situation as fair as possible for Staten Island residents," Cuomo said.

The P.A. board is also expected vote Thursday on a package of reforms spearheaded by Lanza and backed by Cusick that would mandate an independent audit and annual reporting to bring transparency to the bi-state agency, the lawmakers say. It would also require board members to attend public hearings.

In addition, Lanza and Cusick told the Advance they are "committed" to seeking additional toll relief for small business owners here, as well as truckers who use the New York Container Terminal at Howland Hook.

Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Grimm, who has been fighting the P.A. tolls on a number of fronts, said that although he was pleased with the new accord, "the tolls should not have been raised in the first place."

Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) said he will continue to advance the prospect of congressional hearings on the P.A., calling the agency "grossly mismanaged" and saying the last time hearings were held was in the 1960s. Grimm said the hearings would highlight the need for more accountability.