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Cuomo unveils major overhaul of NYC bridges and tunnels

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Toll booths are going the way of the subway token

Governor Cuomo has unveiled a plan to remake New York City’s transportation infrastructure by eliminating tollbooths and installing advanced toll-collecting sensors that will diminish New York City traffic congestion and promote security. The New York Crossing Project, as its been dubbed by the Governor’s office, will also focus on advancing public art by equipping bridges citywide with LED lighting displays that will light up like the crown of the Empire State Building.

The project seeks to remake the city’s infrastructure for the 21st century, and that includes through enacting advanced methods of toll collecting. Tollbooths at the Henry Hudson Bridge, Whitestone Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge, RFK Triborough Bridge, Queens Midtown Tunnel, Hugh L. Carey Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, and Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge will be removed and replaced with sensors and cameras suspended over roadways that will automatically charge vehicles with E-Z Pass.

The method of toll collecting for vehicles without E-Z Pass sounds less foolproof: under the new system, vehicles without E-Z Pass will have their license plate recorded, and a bill will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. The only problem with that? The MTA is already having one hell of a time collecting funds from those skipping out on their fares due to an inability to contact said violators. The system laid out here is slightly more aggressive, but already imperfect.

The plan also calls for advanced cameras and sensors to be installed at structurally sensitive points on bridges and tunnels that will read license plates and also employ facial recognition technology. That technology will then be tied in with the same systems at airports and transportation hubs, like the Penn-Farley Complex. (That’s right, this is a Minority Report world and we’re just living in it.)

The city’s bridges and tunnels will also get an extra boost to protect them from natural devastation. New floodgates will be installed on the entrances to the city’s tunnels, and bridge bearings will be replaced with "seismic isolation bearings" and supports will be reinforced to protect against damage from earthquakes.

Cuomo’s plan also calls for bringing public art above ground in NYC in the way other world cities do. LED lights along the bridges will illuminate for special events like a World Series win, or to recognize events like Gay Pride Week or Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Tolling structures, called gantries, will be covered in dramatic molded chainmail.

The project is ambitious, to say the least, and like the plan to rebuild Penn Station by 2020 (sure, okay), has been proposed with an accelerated timeline. New York Crossing Project lays out a schedule that brings an open road tolling model to the Queens-Midtown and Hugh L. Carey Brooklyn Battery tunnels by January, to the seven bridges operated by the MTA by the end of 2017, and ensures the installation of LED lights along the bridges begins in January.

It is a lofty undertaking that would have far-reaching impacts on the people of the city. The Governor’s office anticipates that open road tolling will save New Yorkers and commuters up to 21 hours of driving time each year, help drivers in the city conserve one million gallons of fuel, save $2.3 million yearly, and decrease emissions throughout the city. Funding for the project has been factored in to the MTA’s $27 billion capital budget.

UPDATE: The MTA says that "no jobs will be lost" with the removal of toll booths and that "personnel will be reassigned to other to other posts focused on safety, security and enforcement."

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