Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cross Bay Bridge Rebate May Be Voided by Tonia Cimino - The Queens Courier

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With these tough economic times, any kind of rebate or freebie helps.

But for the residents of the Rockaways and Broad Channel, a rebate in place for nearly a decade may soon be obliterated.

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and MTA Bridges and Tunnels, Rockaway and Broad Channel residents with E-ZPass currently pay $1.03 each way to drive across the Cross Bay Bridge, but receive a full rebate, so “essentially it’s free.”

However, since the MTA is facing a $1.2 billion budget deficit, the Board will vote next month on eliminating the rebate.

“It’s the same thing as putting a toll booth in the middle of Queens Boulevard,” said Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer, who is herself a Far Rockaway resident.

The bridge, which connects the Rockaway Peninsula, Broad Channel and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to the rest of Queens, saw 22,000 crossings daily in 2007, with numbers higher in summertime for recreational/beach-bound motorists who go to Rockaway beaches, Breezy Point and Riis Park, according to MTA figures.

Currently, non-residents with E-ZPass pay $1.55 each way; $2.50 for cash.

“Elimination of the resident rebate program at Cross Bay Bridge is, at this point, a proposed cut that the MTA Board will vote on next month,” read an MTA statement. “The MTA’s proposed budget addresses significant budget gaps in 2009 and beyond due to plummeting tax revenues, higher fuel costs and elevated debt service obligations. The MTA awaits the release of the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations in December and hopes they will be implemented to restore financial stability to the MTA.”

And though agency officials say that if, in fact, the Board were to vote yes to the proposal, it would not go into effect until mid-year 2009, many, including Pheffer and Community Board 14 Chair Dolores Orr are already worried.

“It’s an unfair tax on people living in the area,” said Pheffer. “The bridge is a bridge going from Queens to Queens.”

“It’s shocking,” said Orr. “It took so many years for us to get people to realize it’s paying to bring your children to school, go to the police or fire departments, supermarkets, post office,” etc.

“I have a friend whose children go to the gifted program in Howard Beach and the mother drives,” she continued. “[If the proposal passes] it will cost her to bring her children to a school within the same district.”

Of the rebate, Orr said, “We’ve been fortunate - it’s been 10 years and it has made a huge difference in the lives of people and the businesses.”

She says that, sans the rebate, businesses may suffer, as residents will face the choice of crossing the bridge or going into Howard Beach for even basic services.

“People should be able to shop in their own community,” said Orr.

“I’m hoping that when we get up to Albany,” said Pheffer, “we can discuss some way to relieve the deficit for the MTA. It’s very difficult times and they’re [the MTA] making it more difficult. I understand they need the money, we just have to find a [better] way.”