Staten Island pols on board with plan to raise Bayonne Bridge
By Judy L. Randall
Via SiLive.com – Despite the current lack of toll relief for New York Container Terminal truckers, the Bayonne Bridge should still be raised for safety and regional economic reasons, three prominent Staten Island politicos maintain.
They also say they believe the Port Authority understands the importance of keeping the NYCT operational and are negotiating in good faith to come up with a workable toll solution.
Howland Hook director Jim Devine has said the high cost of tolls on PA bridges for his truckers will put the NYCT out of business in a few years.
This as critics say borough taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill to raise the bridge to accommodate a new generation of super containerships if only New Jersey ports will benefit and not Howland Hook.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) said last month he would look to thwart federal dollars for the $1 billion bridge-raising project, on line to accommodate the larger class of containerships coming out of a widened Panama Canal.
Last week, the P.A. bumped up by six months a key element of the project, saying the lower deck of the span will be removed by the fall of 2015 rather than the spring of 2016.
“We have to move forward with improvements to the bridge,” said state Sen. Andrew Lanza. “The bridge we have now is outdated, dilapidated and dangerous. The Bayonne is from another era and should be changed. In (P.A. CEO) Pat Foye, we have someone who is straight-talking and appreciates Staten Island. Those conversations continue.”
“The toll issue is priority No. 1 for us on Staten Island as it concerns the NYCT,” said Assemblyman Michael Cusick. “But we know they and the P.A. are in discussion on coming to an agreement on high tolls. It is important to raise the bridge for regional shipping needs and when you talk about regional, it needs to be regional, including Staten Island, not just New Jersey.”
“You have to raise it,” said Borough President James Molinaro. “If they don’t, they lose ships.”
Still, added Molinaro: “We will be paying to lift it. It’s like asking me to repair a house but I can’t live in it when it’s done. I have to look from the outside in.”
While no one wanted to publicly discuss the status of the toll talks, all three said it is important to look to the future.
“We are so well situated for jobs in commerce,” said Lanza (R-Staten Island) who, with Cusick and the Cuomo administration, crafted the residential toll break on P.A. bridges. “But the city hasn’t helped us to realize those opportunities … In the past, the P.A. has failed Staten Island. But I don’t want to lose the opportunity to get a new bridge.”
“Raising the bridge will allow larger ships and help the NYCT to attract business,” added Cusick. “We shouldn’t give up on raising it.”
But Grimm isn’t convinced: “What good is this project to Staten Island if the P.A’s outrageous tolls put our only port out of business? … If the P.A. can expedite the Bayonne Bridge project, it can certainly expedite an agreement on commercial toll relief to protect the jobs and businesses of Staten Island. The governor is right to second-guess a toll increase on the New York State Thruway, because of the damage it will do to the upstate economy. Staten Islanders are only asking for this same level of concern for our local economy downstate.”
Meanwhile, Molinaro said it was time for a Staten Islander to be appointed to the P.A. board of commissioners.
“We should have a voice on that board,” said Molinaro.
Board members are appointed by the governors of New York and New Jersey.