It sounds like that old bit from Sesame Street. One of these things just doesn’t belong.
On Friday, Michael Grimm joined Queens democrats Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks in endorsing of the “Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act,” which would allow State and local governments to grant discounts to local residents who use bridges, tunnels and other forms of transportation. Grimm hopes to protect the discount enjoyed by Staten Islanders who use the Verrazano Bridge, the only bridge connecting the Island to the other four boroughs.
“The simple truth is that Staten Islanders pay exorbitant tolls to subsidize mass transit for other parts of our region,” said Grimm in a statement. “We face the longest commutes in the nation and we receive little transit assistance for carrying that toll burden.”
Non-residents pay $13 in cash to enter Staten Island, while residents pay $7.72. Commuters using EZ-Pass pay $9.60 compared to $5.76 for residents. Several cases appearing in federal court have contemplated the constitutionality of these discounts.
Residents of Grand Island, NY may lose a discount on bridge tolls if a federal judge in New York’s Second District deems the $0.66 discount unconstitutional. And a federal judge in Rhode Island could rule in a similar case as early as next week. The legal offensive against toll discounts has prompted Grimm, along with Weiner and Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) to introduce legislation this week in the House. Senator Charles Schumer introduced matching legislation in the Senate.
The idea of Grimm co-sponsoring a piece of legislation with one of the most liberal members of Congress may unsettle some, but Grimm laughed in an interview with the Staten Island Advance when he cited his alliance with Weiner as a sign of his independence. And just as transportation has become a central issue for Grimm, the VZ Bridge has become a central irritant for Staten Islanders.
The opening of the bridge in 1964 was a pivotal moment in the cultivation of Staten Island’s identity as a suburb. It allowed for many residents to live in the suburbs while commuting to the city.
“The Verrazano Bridge changed everything,” said Patricia Salmon, the curator of the Staten Island Museum.
It stood as world’s largest suspension bridge until 1981, until the Humber Bridge in the bloody United Kingdom surpassed it. Yet in recent years, Islanders have complained about the backups leaving the Island, and the tolls they pay entering it.
Staten Islanders, who have the longest commute time in the nation, have increasingly found work within the borough, but still, 29 percent of Islanders commute to Manhattan for work while only 8 percent use mass transit, according to a recently published study by the Center for an Future.
So while Grimm entered office as a rebuke to the Democratic policies, his effort to preserve the toll discount drives directly at the daily routine of a significant number of Staten Islanders. Some relief for drivers at the toll-booth may translate into relief at the voting booth for Grimm, even if he has to build bridges with the opposition.