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Verrazano-Narrows Bridge 50th anniversary celebration boycotted

Bridge birthday bash botched, boycotted

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Photo gallery

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Salute: Cannons at Staten Island’s Fort Wadsworth fired a 50-gun salute to the bridge.
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Book drive: Gay Telese, author of a book about the building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, poses with George Scarpelli, one of the first people to drive over the bridge when it was completed.
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Park and ride: Joshua Laird, commissioner for New York Harbor for the National Parks Service, spoke at the ceremony. Staten Island’s Fort Wadsworth, where the ceremony was held, is part of the National Parks Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area.
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Class trip: Students from PS 22 braved the cold to help celebrate the bridge’s 50th birthday.
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Memory lane: George Scarpelli, one of the first people to drive over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, poses in a 1964 Cadillac.
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Bridge bake: Cookies celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge were served at the ceremony.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 50th anniversary celebration for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge turned out to be mostly a celebration of itself — and rather a lonely one at that.

Authority honchos, engineering enthusiasts, and even some of the men who built the iconic span attended the celebration at Fort Wadsworth on bucolic Staten Island on Nov. 21, but only transit bigwigs delivered remarks, largely crowing about how their agency has maintained the bridge since its completion in 1964.

Politicians from both sides of the span were conspicuously absent from the party, however, in the wake of days-earlier announcement that the Authority may raise tolls on the $15 crossing.

“There is nothing to celebrate until our city’s commuters can finally receive the Verrazano toll relief that they deserve,” said Borough President Adams.

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R–Bay Ridge), Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), and state Sen. Martin Golden (R–Bay Ridge), along with Staten Island elected officials, also issued statements that they would boycott the festivities in protest.

“Fifty years after Robert Moses’s last great project in New York was completed, our community, which has been in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, is hurting every day with the tolls,” said Golden.

On Nov. 17 the transit agency unveiled plans to raise the E-ZPass fare for cars by 42 cents, possibly hike the commuter cash fare by $1, and charge large trucks significantly more to help fill a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall. The authority’s board will vote on the toll-hike proposal in January.

Gentile also panned the Authority for focusing celebration on Staten Island and overlooking Brooklyn in its official events.

“The MTA completely ignored Bay Ridge in this historic half-century celebration of a bridge that we share with Staten island,” Gentile said.

Indeed, there was no mention during Friday’s fete of the great scar carved through the neighborhood in the early 1960s when the city razed 800 homes and businesses to build access ramps for the bridge.

Transit leaders called the pols’ cold shoulder a snub to the workers who constructed the span.

“This event is about celebrating the structure and honoring the engineers and workers who built it,” said Bridges and Tunnels chief of operations James Fortunato.

But the agency seemed to contradict that message at the event with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque — not for the three men who lost their lives building the span, or the hundreds of ironworkers who erected the marvel, but to the workers who have maintained the structure and collected tolls from drivers since it opened on Nov. 21, 1964.

Regarding the proposed toll hike, the Authority’s chief executive officer said the agency has to make ends meet.

“It takes a lot of work to keep a bridge that handles more than 180,000 vehicles daily safe and in good shape,” said Thomas Prendergast. “That’s why we spent more than $540 million in capital improvements at the Verrazano-Narrows alone in the last [five-year] capital program, and another $431 million is proposed in the 2015–2019 capital program.”

The span’s average daily revenue is $936,000, according to a transit spokesman.

Rounding out the ceremony was a performance by a Staten Island public school choir, a fire boat display, and a 50-gun salute from two Fort Wadsworth cannons.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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