The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA), doing business asMTA Bridges and Tunnels, is an affiliate agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that operates seven toll bridges and two tunnels in New York City. In terms of traffic volume, it is the largest bridge and tunnel toll agency in the United States, serving more than a million people each day and generating more than $1.9billion in toll revenue annually as of 2017. As of 2018[update], its budget was $596 million, funded through taxes and fees.
The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority was founded in 1933 as the Triborough Bridge Authority (TBA). The agency is named after its first crossing, the Triborough Bridge. The Triborough Bridge Authority was reorganized as the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in 1946, and subsequently as the MTA Bridges and Tunnels. Until 1994, however, the agency was publicly known as the TBTA. In addition to operating all nine toll crossings located entirely within New York City, the TBTA also controlled several buildings such as the New York Coliseum and the East Side Airline Terminal, both of which have been demolished.
MTA Bridges and Tunnels was originally founded as the Triborough Bridge Authority (TBA), which was organized to head the construction of the Triborough Bridge. The structure had started construction in 1929 but stalled during the Great Depression due to a lack of funding.:340–344 In February 1933, a nine-person committee applied to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) for a $150 million loan for projects in New York state, including the Triborough Bridge. However, although the RFC favored a loan for the Triborough project, the mayor at the time, John P. O'Brien, banned the RFC from giving loans to the city. Instead, O'Brien wanted to create a bridge authority to sell bonds to pay for the construction of the Triborough Bridge as well as for the planned Queens–Midtown Tunnel between Manhattan and Queens.Robert Moses, the New York City parks commissioner, also pushed the state legislature to create an authority to fund, build, and operate the Triborough Bridge.:340–344
A bill to create the TBA passed quickly through both houses of the state legislature, and was signed by Governor Herbert H. Lehman that April. The bill included a provision that the authority could sell up to $35 million in bonds and fund the remainder of construction through bridge tolls. George Gordon Battle, a Tammany Hall attorney, was appointed as chairman of the new authority, and three commissioners were appointed.
In its first year, the TBA was in turmoil: by January 1934, one of the TBA's commissioners had resigned, and New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia was trying another TBA commissioner, John Stratton O'Leary, for corruption. As a result, Public Works Administration (PWA) administrator Harold L. Ickes refused to distribute parts of the RFC grant allotted to the Triborough Bridge, until the existing funds could be accounted for. After O'Leary had been removed, La Guardia appointed Moses to the open commissioner's position, and Ickes gave the city $1.5 million toward the bridge's construction. Moses became the chairman of the TBA in April 1934, after a series of interim chairmen had held the post.
Moses leveraged his leadership of the Triborough Bridge Authority, as well as the state and city positions he also held, to expedite the Triborough project.:392–394 The Triborough Bridge opened on July 11, 1936.:440–443 The TBA subsequently constructed a second bridge, the Bronx–Whitestone Bridge, between the Bronx and Queens. Construction started in 1937 and the bridge opened on April 29, 1939, in time for the 1939 New York World's Fair in Queens. Moses had proposed a third bridge, the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge, on the site of what is now the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. However, the United States Department of War ultimately rejected the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge as an impediment to shipping, since it would obstruct access from the New York Harbor to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Under the chairmanship of Robert Moses, the agency grew in a series of mergers with four other agencies. In January 1940, as part of a deal to build an approach to the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel, Moses proposed merging the New York City Parkway Authority, which operated the Henry Hudson, Marine Parkway, and Cross Bay Bridges. The City Parkway Authority was merged with the TBA on February 9, 1940. The Parkway Authority had already been merged with the Henry Hudson Parkway Authority, which operated the Henry Hudson Bridge, and with the Marine Parkway Authority, which operated the Marine Parkway Bridge. This gave the TBA complete control of all parkways and toll bridges located entirely in New York City. The same bill revoked the TBA's right to build a bridge from Brooklyn to the Battery. In 1945, with the pending merger of the Triborough Bridge Authority and the New York City Tunnel Authority, the former was renamed the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. The authority operated the Queens–Midtown Tunnel and was building the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel. The merger was finalized in 1946. The TBTA completed the construction of the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel, which opened to traffic on May 25, 1950.
Generating millions of dollars in toll revenue annually, the TBTA easily became a powerful city agency as it was capable of funding large capital projects. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the TBTA built the Battery Tunnel Parking Garage, Jacob Riis Beach Parking Field, the New York Coliseum, and the East Side Airlines Terminal.
Aside from toll crossings, one of the TBTA's most profitable properties was the New York Coliseum, an office building and convention center at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. The complex cost $35 million to build, of which $26.5 million came from toll revenues collected by the TBTA. The Coliseum, which became the New York City's major convention center, had a tax agreement with the city wherein the city government would collect a portion of the TBTA's revenue rather than collect taxes on the Coliseum property. Within the first ten years of the Coliseum's opening, the city had collected almost $9.1 million from the TBTA. This special tax arrangement continued until the property was sold in 1998.
The TBTA built two additional bridges in the 1960s. The Throgs Neck Bridge, a project to alleviate traffic on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, started construction in 1957 and opened on January 11, 1961. The long-planned Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, which had been proposed as far back as the 1920s,:135 started construction in 1959 and was opened on November 21, 1964. Because of higher-than-expected traffic on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, the TBTA built a second deck on that bridge in 1969.
In January 1966, New York City Mayor John Lindsay proposed merging the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), which operated buses and subways in New York City, with the TBTA to create the Metropolitan Commuter Transit Authority (MCTA). While Governor Nelson Rockefeller offered his "complete support" for Lindsay's proposed unified transit agency, Robert Moses called the proposed merger "absurd" and "grotesque" for its unwieldiness. Lindsay then proposed a bill in the state legislature that would allow the mayor to appoint a majority of the members in the new city-run transportation agency, but this was rejected.:229 In June 1966, Rockefeller announced his plans to expand the MCTA's scope to create a new regional transit authority to encompass the existing MCTA, as well as the NYCTA and TBTA. Lindsay disagreed, saying that the state and city should have operationally separate transit authorities that worked in tandem. In early 1967, Rockefeller proposed merging the NYCTA and TBTA into the MCTA, as well as creating a $2.5 billion bond issue to fund transportation improvements.:231 On May 3, 1967, Rockefeller signed a bill that allowed the MCTA to oversee the mass transit policies of New York City-area transit systems and the TBTA by the following March.
Initially, the TBTA was resistant to the MCTA's efforts to acquire it. Moses was afraid that the enlarged MCTA would "undermine, destroy or tarnish" the integrity of the TBTA, One source of contention was Rockefeller's proposal to use TBTA tolls in order to subsidize the cheap fares of the NYCTA, since Moses strongly opposed any use of TBTA tolls for use by outside agencies. Moses agreed to merge the TBTA into the MCTA in March 1967, and he even campaigned in favor of the transit bond issue.:231 In February 1968, the TBTA's bondholders finally acquiesced to the MCTA's merger proposal.
On March 1, 1968, the MCTA dropped the word "Commuter" from its name and became the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The MTA took over the operations of the other New York City-area transit systems as well as the TBTA. Moses was relieved from his job as chairman of the TBTA, although he was retained as a consultant. Moses stated that TBTA construction projects would reduce the MTA's budget surplus through 1970. Surplus revenue, formerly used for new automobile projects, was then used to support public transportation.
Since the merger, more than $10billion has been contributed by the TBTA to subsidize mass transit fares and capital improvements for the New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North Railroad. The MTA Bridges and Tunnels trading name was adopted in 1994. The name Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority is still the legal name of the Authority.
A patrol car of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority
The Authority has less than 500 Bridge and Tunnel officers. They are New York State peace officers who perform tasks such as directing traffic, helping motorists, performing patrols and selected security duties at the nine intra-city crossings, as well as other miscellaneous duties. In addition, about 150 New York State Police officers and 150 New York National Guardsmen are assigned to policing and counter-terrorism activities.
MTA Bridges and Tunnels collects the vast majority of its tolls through E-ZPass, an electronic toll collection system. E-ZPass was introduced at MTA Bridges and Tunnels crossings between 1995 and 1997.
In October 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that tollbooths would removed at all bridges to speed up traffic. Since September 30, 2017, all MTA Bridges & Tunnels facilities have collected tolls through open-road cashless tolling. Tollbooths previously in place have been dismantled, and drivers will no longer be able to pay cash at the crossings. Instead, cameras mounted onto new overhead gantries collect the tolls. While some are located where toll booths were previously located, others are located at the opposite ends of the facilities. A vehicle without E-ZPass has a picture taken of its license plate and a bill for the toll is mailed to its owner. For E-ZPass users, sensors will detect their transponders wirelessly.