There’s No Such Thing as a Free Bridge

WillisAve_HRLS2.jpgPhoto of the Willis Avenue Bridge floating by barge under the Triborough’s Harlem River span: MTA

The journey of the new Willis Avenue Bridge has been a sight to behold. Over the past few weeks, the gargantuan span that will replace the existing bridge linking Harlem and the South Bronx has floated down the Hudson from Coeymans, NY, up the East River and over to the Harlem River, between First Avenue and Willis Avenue. It was an awesome spectacle.

Today the new span settled into its final position, where crews will put on the finishing touches to connect it to approaches on each side of the Harlem River. The new Willis Avenue Bridge will be an upgrade in many ways (for starters, it’s not 110 years old), but like its predecessor, it will be free to drive across, beckoning to toll-shopping motorists and incurring all sorts of costs in air pollution, lost time, noise and danger caused by unnecessary traffic.

The act of replacing the bridge is rather expensive too. To mark the arrival of the bridge at its destination, the city released some figures today showing the pricetag for the replacement — $612 million — as well as how much all the recent bridge work in the city has cost.

Since 2002, the city has spent more than $5 billion on bridge projects. It has cost a bundle to maintain the linchpins of NYC’s ostensibly free road network, including:

  • $508 million on the Brooklyn Bridge;
  • $364 million on seven bridges along the Belt Parkway;
  • $277 million on the Williamsburg Bridge;
  • $168 million on the Queensboro Bridge; and
  • $150 million on the Manhattan Bridge.

These are important investments that need to be made. The question is why motorists should continue to get a free ride on all this expensive infrastructure.