City leaders skip 50th anniversary ceremony for Verrazano Bridge

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NEW YORK (PIX11) -- Some of the first drivers to travel across the Verrazano Bridge brought a classic Cadillac to the ceremony.

Other people chose to stay home.

About 180,000 vehicles will cross it today.

The longest suspension bridge in the United States opened on November 21, 1964. The MTA oversees operations of the bridge and held a ceremony at Fort Wadsworth, at the foot of the bridge in Staten Island.

“We spent more than $540 million in capital improvements at the Verrazano-Narrows alone in the last Capital Program," said MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast. "Another $431 million is proposed in the 2015-2019 Capital Program." He also acknowledged the limited transit options.

Staten Island's elected leaders did not attend the ceremony.

New York Assemblyman Joe Borelli (R,C,I-South Shore) questioned the timing of the ceremony a few days after fare and toll hike proposals were released.

About a 4% increase has always been part of the MTA's 2015 budget. There are discounts for E-Z pass users and Staten Island residents making more than 3 trips per month. 16% of drivers pay cash.

Toll increase Proposal: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
(Toll collected in one direction only)
Car Cash
Car NYCSC E-ZPass Toll
Staten Island Resident E-ZPass 2+ Trips/Month
SI Resident E-ZPass less than 3 Trips/Month
Staten Island Resident Token
Truck-2 Axle Cash
Truck-2 Axle NYCSC E-ZPass
Truck-5 Axle Cash
Truck-5 Axle NYCSC E-ZPass

92% of E-ZPass users with a Staten Island address get the resident discount and also a rollback created by Governor Cuomo.

Hearings on the increases will begin December 1 and includes one at the College of Staten Island Center for the Arts on Wednesday, December 10 at 6 p.m.

A plane was hired by Right of Way, advocates of a bike and pedestrian path for the bridge, to fly over the ceremony with a large banner calling for a path. The MTA is studying the possibility of adding a path to the Verrazano as part of the current renovation project.

Borough President James Oddo issued a statement that first acknowledged his respect for the MTA Chariman and staff:

"I think they are genuine public servants. I also firmly believe that Tom and his team inherited a system that for a long while clearly has been unsustainable in its current form; a point that seemed to be readily acknowledged by various candidates running for Mayor in 2013. As toll payers and New Yorkers, we can only hope that those in position to make the necessary and inevitable changes do so sooner rather than later. If not, this ridiculous cycle will continue, and the resulting harm will grow exponentially."

"For now, though, it appears that the MTA is playing the only cards it has. Since first learning of the Verrazano Bridge 50th anniversary event I have been conflicted about participating in the celebration. I have tried to balance my awe at the engineering marvel and its historical significance, with the tangible angst brought on by the predatory tolling that has been so much a part of this structure’s history."

"I can’t help but personalize it. I can’t help thinking about a guy who for years worked two jobs – sometimes 6 days a week – stealing time from his wife and children simply to make ends meet – and who had to endure being shaken down each and every time he crossed that bridge. That guy was my father. And in truth he suffered with tens of thousands of fathers and mothers who traversed that bridge alongside him."

"So when it was announced during this anniversary week that another toll increase was looming, the juxtaposition of events was enough to snatch utter frustration from the jaws of fleeting pride."

"I just don’t think I can stand there and celebrate any aspect of this institution and keep a straight face."

"I, therefore, have decided to not attend the 50th Anniversary celebration event tomorrow. I have no illusions that my absence or that of my Staten Island colleagues in elected office will cause the MTA to have an epiphany and change its plans. They won’t because they can’t, and they can’t because the system is broken. There is a hole in the bottom of their bucket that has never been fixed, and in order to run this mass transit system they need that bucket to be constantly re-filled, and for now that is accomplished by collecting ever-increasing fares and tolls.”

New York Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R,C,I – Brooklyn, Staten Island) issued this statement:

“For decades, revenue from the Verrazano Bridge has been misused, subsidizing other parts of the MTA’s service territory while Staten Island received crumbs.  The necessary investment in infrastructure and transportation options have not been made and in 2014 we are still fighting for basic transit options like North and West Shore links.  To add insult to injury, we are consistently forced to fight ludicrous toll and fair hikes year after year with the MTA’s 50th anniversary gift to the community being another 4% hike across the region, further burdening commuters and small businesses. No one in this city, regardless of residency should have to pay a $16 toll to cross a bridge.  I have had enough, my constituents have had enough and, until the MTA provides our community with equitable treatment and a reasonable toll structure, there is nothing to celebrate."