Chamber Fights Toll Hikes On Trip To Washington

Chamber delegation meets with lawmakers to focus on tolls

(from left to right): Robert Fitzsimmons, Gateway Arms Realty; Solomon Chemo, Chairman of the Board, SICC, Richmond Group Wealth Advisors; Linda Baran, President & CEO, Staten Island Chamber of Commerce; Annamarie Gentile, Executive Board Member & Co-Chair of Chamber small business committee, Angiuli & Gentile, LLP; Mary McLaughlin, Government Affairs Director, Staten Island Chamber of Commerce; Steve Margarella, Margarella Industrial Construction Corp.

The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce recently returned from its annual trip to Washington, D.C., where members met with elected officials and their representatives to discuss a single issue vital to Staten Island business and residents: tolls.

Our plea for relief from these punitive tolls has garnered bipartisan support from our local, state and federal legislators, all of whom have signed off on a letter to Governor Cuomo, imploring him to revisit the Port Authority toll increases with an eye toward making his mantra "to keep New York open for business" a reality for Staten Island. The letter was also signed by the Staten Island Board of Realtors, Inc., the BUCKS business network, the Staten Island Home Improvement Contractors Association, the Building Industry of NYC, Inc., and the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation.

Staten Island Chamber of Commerce

Read our letter to Governor Cuomo, signed by Staten Island's elected officials and business groups.

Upon arriving in D.C. on May 9, the group visited the office of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Capitol Hill for a transportation briefing from Alex Hergott, Director of Transportation & Infrastructure; Daniel Hillenbrand, Research Coordinator; and Drew Preston, Manager of Congressional and Public Affairs. Mr. Hergott explained that tolling as an issue is very difficult to navigate and that, as the Port Authority is a bi-state agency, it is a political problem that would be better handled at the state level. The group also discussed the Surface Transportation bill that is currently in conference and the effects it might have on Staten Island and tolls.

The Chamber delegation, with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY, seated left)

Over the next 24 hours, in meetings with Congressman Grimm, Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand's office and Governor Cuomo's office, as well as with their counterparts in New Jersey — the offices of Senators Menendez and Lautenberg, and U.S. Department of Transportation officials Maritime Administrator David Matsuda and Federal Highway Administrator David Mendez — the Chamber's resounding message was that failure to take immediate action to remediate the toll increases will force businesses to leave Staten Island, resulting in a loss of jobs for residents as well as a lack of overall economic activity. Ultimately, these toll hikes will lead to increased prices for Staten Island residents, who will no doubt have the toll increases passed on to them.

The Chamber delegation with Congressman Michael Grimm (R, Staten Island/Brooklyn, third from left)

In all of the Chamber's meetings, the delegation discussed the Commuter Protection Act and the difficulty of moving federal legislation forward. States currently have control over tolling issues and may object to conceding authority to the federal government and the Department of Transportation. That being said, the Chamber appealed to the federal officials for any help in obtaining relief such as toll studies and residential discounts.

NY 1

View coverage of our D.C. trip on NY1 by clicking here.

After D.C. visit, Staten Island Chamber of Commerce vows to keep pressure on Cuomo over toll hikes.

On tolls, keep hammering away.

The overall response the Chamber received was that the support of Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie is the key to gaining any toll relief. The Chamber has requested a meeting with Governor Cuomo and an economic impact study to provide tangible data on the effect of the tolls on Staten Island residents and interstate commerce with New Jersey. The Chamber is looking forward to continuing discussions on tolls with our elected representatives and our newly found allies in New Jersey.

Read Chamber Board member Annamarie Gentile's blog post on our Washington trip here.

For more information on the Chamber's trip, please "Call the Chamber" at 718­727-1900, or email Mary McLaughlin at [email protected]