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MOLINARI v. NEW YORK TRIBOROUGH BRIDGE & TUNNEL AU

December 9, 1993

SUSAN MOLINARI, GUY V. MOLINARI and ROBERT DICARLO, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE NEW YORK TRIBOROUGH BRIDGE AND TUNNEL AUTHORITY, THE NEW YORK METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDWARD R. KORMAN

 KORMAN, J.

 Susan Molinari, who represents Staten Island in Congress, Guy V. Molinari, who is the President of the Borough of Staten Island, and Robert DiCarlo, who was elected recently to the New York State Senate from Bay Ridge, challenge the 1989 and 1993 toll increases on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The essence of their complaint is that these toll increases are unjust and unreasonable because their sole purpose is to generate subsidies for the public transportation components of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ("MTA"). The discussion of the legal arguments underpinning the complaint requires first a brief description of the nature of the transportation system in the New York metropolitan area and the circumstances that led to the creation of both the MTA and the legislative scheme that mandates the subsidies at issue here.

 The New York metropolitan area is more dependent on public transportation than any other region in the United States. Nearly seven million passengers use public transportation each day in the region that includes New York City, Long Island, Westchester, Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland, and Orange counties in New York, and Fairfield County in Connecticut. Virtually all of these passengers use one of the transit modes operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, specifically, the New York City Transit Authority ("TA") buses and subways, Staten Island Rapid Transit Authority ("SIRTOA") subways, Metro-North Commuter Railroad and Long Island Rail Road trains and Metropolitan Suburban Bus Authority ("MSBA") buses.

 Public transportation is critical because of the dense population of the area, because much of the City of New York and its eastern suburbs are located on three islands that are connected to each other and the mainland by a limited number of bridge and tunnel crossings, and because such a large proportion of traffic each day goes into and out of Manhattan Island. Indeed, more than 3.8 million transit trips and 1.9 million vehicular trips each day are made into or out of the narrow confines of the Manhattan Central Business District, located south of 60th Street.

 While the MTA's Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority ("TBTA"), which operates nine bridges and tunnels in New York City, including the Queens-Midtown and Brooklyn Battery tunnels as well as the Triborough, Throgs-Neck, Whitestone, and Verrazano-Narrows bridges, provides crossings for more than 750,000 trips each day, vehicular traffic would grind to a halt without the commuter rail, subway and bus lines that serve New York City and its suburbs.

 Notwithstanding the critical role of public transportation, its needs were largely ignored for decades. Instead, Public resources were devoted mainly to the construction of highways, bridges and tunnels. While new facilities were constructed in the hope of alleviating traffic on existing facilities, each new facility had the effect of increasing the overall volume of vehicular traffic without any meaningful reduction in the volume of traffic on existing facilities.

 The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which opened on May 25, 1950, provides an illustration of such traffic generation. When it opened, the forecast was that it would carry 8,400,000 cars during its first year of operation. By the end of its first six months of operation it was carrying traffic at 15,000,000 - vehicle - per - year rate. Indeed, by 1952 it was carrying up to three times the rush hour load of 2000 that it was engineered to handle. As Robert Caro has observed in his classic biography of Robert Moses, who was Chairman of the TBTA:

 
Moses had expected it to draw off traffic from the parallel Queens-Midtown Tunnel and three free East River bridges. But traffic on the bridges remained "normal," which meant jammed. And traffic through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, fed now by the widened Queens-Midtown Expressway, increased instead of decreasing. In 1951, while the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was carrying cars at a rate of 79.3 percent above estimates, traffic through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel was 26.3 percent higher than ever before. Previously 10,967,000 cars per year had been trying to use one tunnel. Now there were two tunnels--and 28,445,668 cars were trying to use them. The situation at the southern portion of the East River was duplicated at the northern.

 Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker 911 (Vintage Books Edition 1975).

 Not only did new construction have the effect of generating more traffic, but the rate of increase was fueled significantly by the concomitant neglect of the kind of mass transportation that would have provided an alternative to the use of automobiles during rush hours.

 
The failure to maintain existing railroad lines in a condition that would persuade even their present riders to keep using them, much less to attract new ones, the failure to construct new lines into newly developed areas, while building new highways into these areas, was driving more and more commuters off the railroad and onto the highway. The effect on the city of the widening gap could only be disastrous.

 Id. at 917.

 The end result of this policy is vividly described by Caro. "By 1968 . . . with the annual surplus of Moses' Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority running more than $ 30,000,000 per year, every suburban railroad in the New York metropolitan area was either bankrupt or teetering on the brink." Id. at 939. Similarly, New York City's mass transportation system, which once "was probably the best in the world," had by then become "quite possibly the worst." Id. at 933. While New York had highways, bridges and tunnels that ranked "with the greatest feats of urban construction in recorded history," nothing about these facilities "was as awesome as the congestion on them." Id. at 940.

 Ultimately recognizing "that the movement of people and goods in a great metropolitan region required a balanced transportation system, " id. at 897, the New York State Legislature created the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968. Under the umbrella of the MTA, the operations of the toll generating bridges and tunnels of the TBTA and the public authorities that operated the subways and the commuter rail and bus lines were effectively merged. In so doing, the legislature found that:

 
It is the sense of the legislature, as a matter of state concern, that a greater degree of coordination of effort should now be sought with respect to the activities of . . . the metropolitan commuter transportation authority, the New York city transit authority, the triborough bridge and tunnel authority and the Manhattan and Bronx surface transit operating authority;
 
To this end, it is the purpose of this title to place each of these authorities under common control by a single board and to impose upon that board the additional responsibility of developing and implementing a unified mass transportation policy for such region.

 1967 N.Y. Laws c.717, Title 9, § 60, (emphasis supplied).

 To provide financial assistance to implement the mandated "unified mass transportation policy," the legislature authorized the use of surplus funds of the TBTA for mass transportation purposes as follows:

 
Notwithstanding any provision of this title or any other provision of law, general, special or local, the authority may from time to time transfer and pay over to metropolitan transportation authority or New York city transit authority all or any part of its surplus funds in accordance with the provisions of subdivision twelve of section five hundred fifty-three of this chapter.

 N.Y. Pub. Auth. Law § 569 - c.1 (McKinney 1982).

 By 1972, the basic structure for the mandatory sharing of TBTA operating surpluses was in effect. Section 1219-a(2)(b) of the Public Authorities Law mandated that such transfers to the Transit Authority and the commuter railroads be made:


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