Friday, December 10, 2010

What Would Moses Say?

Koch Bridge, Carey Tunnel

Long Island to Manhattan,

Over or Under East River

Recent days have seen a flurry of activity on a previously quiet front: the naming of bridges and tunnels.

Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced Wednesday evening at a party in Gracie Mansion to celebrate former Mayor Ed Koch's 86th birthday that legislation would be introduced in the City Council to add the name "Ed Koch" to the Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge.

At the same time it was reported that both houses of the State Legislature had adopted legislation changing the name of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which was opened in 1950 and charged a 35 cent toll, to the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, honoring the seven-term Brooklyn Congressman (1961-74) and two-term New York State Governor (1975-82). The bill awaits signature by Governor David A. Paterson, whose eponym is the former 'silk city' in northern New Jersey.

The twin name changes are relished affectionately in an article by veteran NBC reporter Gabe Pressman titled HAIL TO KOCH AND CAREY and aired December 8. Read it here.

The Times digested the name changes the next morning in a column by Michael M. Grynbaum, BRIDGE AND TUNNEL TYPES. The column is very well done, and its best lines are saved for the closer:

"But the former mayor asked a reporter to wait a moment so he could share a quotation he had found in 'The Great Gatsby,' [a 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald], which he called appropriate for the occasion.

"'The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge,' Mr. Koch said, reading from the novel, 'is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.'

"'Nobody else has a bridge like that,' Mr. Koch concluded happily. 'Only me!'"

In Mr. Pressman's article, Mayor Koch is quoted as saying: "I'm not handsome, that's why the Queensboro represents me so well. And on my bridge I'll insist there'll never be a toll!"

The phrase that comes to our mind is: "From your lips to God's ear."

Unfortunately, there are lesser figures, all honorable men, who are eager to impose fees and tolls wherever they find human life or activity, or even death in some cases. But like the troll in "The Three Billy Goats Gruff", who wanted to gobble up anyone who crossed the bridge under which he lurked, taxers are sometimes frustrated.

The tradition in New York City has been that a bridge is a street over water, and the 19th century bridges, which once cost a few cents to cross, have been toll free for about a hundred years. The 20th century bridges were built largely by Robert Moses from the '30s to the '60s. Their tolls were supposed to pay the cost of construction, and then maintenance. They did, but that was not enough.

Since the MTA swallowed the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in 1968, in part so Governor Nelson Rockefeller could rid New York of the once powerful Moses, who had insulted his brother in 1963, most of the bridge income has gone to mass transit subsidies. These millions have not, however, been able to keep up with escalating costs of transit agencies, where salaries, health care and pensions are growing at a rate that will be impossible to maintain, and incurring debt service for capital projects which are charged to operating expenses.

The bridge and the tunnel will have bright new names. We hope they enjoy bright futures in the new century.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:16 AM

    Yes, lets fight tolls on every bridge, every highway, every subway line: why should we the citizens pay the cost of the bridges and highways we use anyway??? Much less the more eco-friendly mass transit systems! We're with you: we do want government to pay for it all! Yes indeed, down with capitalism/markets - up with socialism!