As Memorial Day weekend approaches, east Bronx residents and elected officials worry traffic from recent lane closures and closed tollbooths on MTA bridges will make holiday traffic a nightmare.
Road work on the Throgs Neck, Whitestone and RFK bridges to install cashless tolling has caused major traffic delays and other inconveniences for Bronx residents, said Locust Point resident Robert Dean.
When the Throgs Neck Bridge toll plaza traffic is heavy, the I-295 Harding Avenue exit is blocked off, he said.
To make matters worse, motorists are using the Harding Avenue entrance to access the bridge to avoid several hours of backed-up highway traffic caused by the cashless tolling work.
“God forbid an ambulance, or police car or fire truck had to get into Locust Point, there’s no way they can,” he said. The community has only one means of egress.
Locust Point Civic Association president Joe Donovan said he got a dozen angry phone calls from residents over the May 21 to May 22 weekend about the traffic, which essentially blocked off the entire community.
“Our neighborhood is in an uproar, and this isn’t going to get better any time soon,” he said.
The Throgs Neck Bridge entrance is supposed to be closed on the weekends to prevent such problems, but Donovan said it was open for some reason this weekend and he didn’t know why.
Some residents were told that the governor’s office ordered it opened.
Even Goggle Maps advised motorists to use the shortcut as the best bridge route to save time.
“Nowadays we have extra state troopers on our bridges, but there’s no one there to direct traffic, and we don’t understand it,” he said.
Donovan said he commutes to LaGuardia Airport in Queens every day, a 14-minute trip home he said now takes 45 minutes on a good day, regardless of what bridge he used.
Community Board 10 president Martin Prince said he was aware of the traffic problems, and said he would reach out to the MTA for traffic enforcement at the bridge.
The MTA will be meeting with the Throggs Neck Homeowner Association, he said, but he said he wanted them to meet with the CB 10 as well.
“I foresee traffic will be a problem for some time, and we’re going to see if we can address that before the summer before the warm weather comes because that will be a nightmare,” he said.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto said he was not opposed to the concept of cashless tolling, but said he was extremely annoyed by the state-run MTA’s decision to install the new feature on both local bridges at the same time, in addition to the RFK Bridge.
Benedetto said he believes the project was being rushed to make the governor look good, at its residents’ expense.
“What they are doing is ill-conceived and rushed, and I am outraged at what it’s doing to travellers and commuters and our neighborhoods,” he said. “It leaves no place for people to go to avoid traffic, and it is taking people hours to get to their destination.”
Benedetto said the lane closures and traffic pattern changes have caused major traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway, Bruckner Boulevard, Cross Bronx Expressway and I-95, as well as on roads in Queens.
He also criticized the decision to open the Harding Avenue bridge entrance last weekend trapping residents in Locust Point, Silver Beach and Edgewater in their homes.
“That was an absolute disaster, and somebody has to be held accountable for it,” he said.
Benedetto said the MTA incredulously blamed the traffic backups on the warm weather and the low fuel prices when he first alerted them to the problem
Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj also called for all closed plaza lanes and tollbooths to be reopened, and warned the closures were a safety concern.
Ambulances and police cars experienced problems accessing Locust Point and Edgewater Park over the past week, he added.
“This is an unacceptable danger to New Yorkers in need of emergency services,” Gjonaj stated. “It is absolutely imperative that the MTA re-open all toll lanes and work with the NYC police and fire departments, as well as the NYC Department of Transportation, to create a plan that will reroute excess traffic and allow the safe passage of emergency vehicles during the construction process.”
Throggs Neck Homeowners Association president Lynn Gerbino said the 45th Precinct informed her on Wednesday, May 24 that the Harding Avenue bridge entrance would be closed on weekends from now on, which she assumed also applied Memorial Day.
Gerbino said the MTA had already been scheduled to meet with the association at its Tuesday, May 30 meeting at 7:30 p.m. at Villa Barone to discuss the new cashless tolling, but that in the wake of last week’s issues traffic congestion would also be discussed.
MTA spokesperson Christopher McKniff said the work would pay off once completed and the cashless tolling lanes should be installed in the fall.
The system allows the state to charge motorists without E-ZPass through the mail instead of at a tollbooth.
“These are all bridges where there is no cashless tolling,” McKniff stated. “These locations will benefit greatly from upcoming cashless tolling because customers won’t have to slow or stop at toll booths. This is exactly one of the reasons why Governor Cuomo accelerated the conversation to cashless tolling.”
The project and the mile-long traffic congestion will most likely continue to inconvenience motorists at least through September.