Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to automate toll collections at all MTA crossings in the city and transform the bridges with futuristic lighting displays. NY1's Jose Martinez filed the following report.
It's Governor Andrew Cuomo's latest big transportation idea: transforming the nine MTA bridges and tunnels in the city.
With a slick video and an Alicia Keys beat, Cuomo announced the most eye-catching element of his plan, bathing the crossings in colored LED lighting that can be changed to fit the occasion, such as a gay pride celebration or a Mets World Series win.
"Our bridges are some of the most beautiful on the globe, just structurally. If they were illuminated, they could be breathtaking," Cuomo said.
Last week, Cuomo unveiled an overhaul of Penn Station. Last spring, he detailed a plan to transform LaGuardia Airport. Those projects were presented as done deals.
The governor sounded a similar refrain Wednesday.
"This is not, 'I think we could do this and I think it would be nice,'" Cuomo said.
The new plans will affect the seven bridges and two tunnels in the city operated by the MTA, a state agency. And they will be more than cosmetic.
To improve the flow of traffic, human toll takers will be replaced by automatic toll payment systems. beginning in January at the tunnels and by 2018 at the bridges.
"Sixty-four hundred hours every day are spent waiting to pay the tolls, which is just amazing, when you think about it," Cuomo said.
In 2012, the MTA switched to a completely cashless tolling system on the Henry Hudson, which links Manhattan and the Bronx. It's a move that's cost the MTA millions of dollars in unpaid tolls, but that's something Cuomo says he's not going to sweat.
"The penalties made up for the loss," he said.
Some watchdogs question Cuomo's argument for the costly lighting systems.
"Yes, it's nice to have a pretty bridge. Will it create a huge increase in tourism as the governor was saying? Most likely not," said Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute.
Cuomo's $500 million plan includes adding protective barriers to keep floodwaters out of the tunnels, and testing facial recognition software that potentially could monitor all drivers.
"The funding is secured," Cuomo said. "Tom Prendergast has it in his back pocket. I know he does."
That, too, the governor insists, is not just talk.