When driving up or down the Eastern seaboard GPS and navigation apps all seem route me through New York City, leaving me to deal with the exorbitant bridge tolls. My most recent trip cost me over $50 in tolls, mostly because the GPS insisted on sending me into, then out of, NYC. Seeing as how the high tolls are presumably meant to deter city traffic, you'd think there would be a way for drivers to opt out of driving through the city. But of course, asking Google Maps or Waze to avoid tolls gives me the completely toll-free route, which adds many unnecessary hours to my trip by avoiding every toll along the way. So, my question is: how can I avoid or minimize the NYC tolls if I just want to go past New York and not enter it?
You have to cross the Hudson River somewhere, so its bridges are natural choke points. The three closest to, but not entering, New York City are:
New Tappan Zee Bridge on I-87/I-287/NYS Thruway, toll $5.00 eastbound
Bear Mountain Bridge on US-6/US-202, toll $1.50 eastbound
Newburgh-Beacon Bridge on I-84, toll $1.50 eastbound.
The bridges further north would likely be too far out of your way (the next is the Mid-Hudson bridge, 75 miles north of NYC). So you can try your route with your favorite online route planner, adding each of these three bridges successively as intermediate stops, and see which route looks best.
Nate has rightly pointed out the three bridge options for minimizing the toll expenses while traveling through NYC. Among them, the most economical would be Tappan Zee Bridge.
Say you travel between Silver Spring, MD and Amherst, MA regularly. The usual route is to take I95 through George Washington Bridge which costs around $40 in tolls whereas if you take I78 and pass through Tappan Zee Bridge, you'll save 30 bucks straight.
However, Google Maps is not good at suggesting routes like this to minimize tolls but there are plethora of trip planner apps/websites (just Google;). You can try tollguru; have heard it is popular among New Yorkers. It shows alternate routes with varying toll charges. I calculated the above costs there only.