By Patricia Adams
The MTA’s decision to eliminate the Rebate Program for residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaway’s from the toll on the Cross Bay Veterans' Memorial Bridge has revived a fight originally begun in the late 1990’s.
Elected officials and residents maintain that a toll on the bridge which connects a single zip code, one Queens' neighborhood to another Queens neighborhood, is outrageously unfair and could possibly be unconstitutional. It is the only intra-borough toll in New York City.
Now the MTA plans to remove the rebate which allows Broad Channel and Rockaway residents to travel across the bridge at no charge because the agency says they have to fill in a budget gap.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall organized a rally for protestors and elected officials at the toll plaza of the bridge on Tuesday morning. “This toll will hamper the ongoing economic development of the entire Rockaway Peninsula and put an unfair burden on the residents of Broad Channel,” stated Marshall.
Pointing out that many Broad Channel residents send their children to school across the bridge, shop at local stores and patronize Rockaway restaurants, the borough president stressed the choking effect the toll will place on families already burdened financially. “The MTA should know that they have made this a bridge over troubled water.”
Joining Marshall at the rally were Councilmember Joe Addabbo, Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer, , Community Board 14 Chairperson Delores Orr and District Manager Jonathan Gaska, Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton, Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio and a host of residents and civic/community activists.
“I am confident that we will be able to impress upon them [MTA] that it is not only unfair and unjust but possibly illegal to charge anyone living in Queens with this toll,” said Audrey Pheffer.
The assemblywoman went on to say that it is absurd to think that residents of Broad Channel would have to pay a toll in order to go to their police precinct to file a report, or to their community board. “This part of Queens is no different than any other. What would people do if they had to pay a toll on Queens Boulevard?”
A key point introduced at the rally by Pheffer was the fact that after requesting reports of figures from the MTA on the costs and profits from the operation of the bridge, it appears that the bridge is a wash for the financially troubled agency. “They’re not making any money off this bridge. It’s a wash, so what’s the point.”
Addressing the crowd, Councilmember Joe Addabbo supported the opposition to the toll and to the removal of the rebate. “Just like the toll on this bridge behind us, we shouldn’t be here. The MTA can’t handle the money they already have and we shouldn’t be giving them another penny.”
Addabbo explained there are many problems with the Ravitch report released on the MTA, because it fails to address what he considers to be a key factor. “The report does not talk about restructuring or a plan of how the MTA would better handle money.”
Addabbo’s comments served to charge the angry and frustrated protestors. “The MTA needs to look in the mirror and point a finger at themselves for their own failure. They cannot be allowed to ride the backs of the people to get out of their own mess.” The senator-elect went on to encourage the residents to stand as a united community, and speak loud enough for all to hear. “You can stop this.”
The community of Broad Channel has collected more than 1400 signatures on its website, broadchannelny.com to stop the reinstatement of the toll. Community concerns in Broad Channel stem from frustration among residents who know that the added expense of the toll could drastically effect an influx of new families moving into the community.
“Look at the common sense behind the numbers here,” said Democratic District leader Frank Gulluscio, “a parent could conceivably have to pay $5.00 just for tolls to pick up a sick child from school. That is simply absurd. These people fought as one big community to get this rebate program implemented and there is no way it should be taken from them now.”
As of press time the MTA was scheduled to hold public hearings at their headquarters Wednesday December 10th at 10:30 a.m. in downtown Brooklyn, regarding the reinstitution of the toll for residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaways.