2008-12-19 / Front Page

MTA Votes 13-1, CBB Tolls Likely

By Nicholas Briano

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) voted 13-1 on Wednesday to approve a severe 2009 budget that calls for service cuts in bus, subway and commuter rails as well as a 23 percent fare increase. All of those impact Rockaway commuters in a big way, but none more than an additional cut, which eliminates the rebate for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents who travel across the Cross Bay Bridge.

The effort to close the MTA's growing $1.2 billion budget deficit as soon as possible holds bad news for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents who have been enjoying the benefits of the commuter rebate plan since 1998, a rebate that provides free access across the Cross Bay Bridge for residents who use an EZ-Pass device.

Residents and elected officials attempted to save the plan by holding rallies and testifying at several MTA board hearings over the past two weeks, but to no avail.

Therefore, as early as June, residents with an EZ-Pass can expect to pay $1.03 each way to get back and forth from the Rockaways to Broad Channel.

Officials now say that the only way the toll rebate can be retained and other fare increases city-wide could be saved, is for state legislators to pass a financial bailout plan that would generate additional revenue to close the budget gap and lessen the fare and toll increases. That would put a halt to most of the service reductions and fare increases. One recommendation is that this would be done by creating a payroll tax and charging tolls on East and Harlem River bridges.

If the MTA does not receive the financial help, fares would rise to at least $2.50 from $2, and monthly unlimited-rides, a popular option for many commuters, could rise to nearly $100 from $81.

"I am deeply disappointed by the MTA's proposal to eliminate the Rockaway Resident Cross Bay Bridge Rebate Program," State Senator Malcolm Smith said in a statement. "Eliminating the rebate is counterproductive to the local economy and its residents at a time when they can least afford it."

The state-wide financial rescue plan was proposed and led by former MTA chairman and now state appointed commission head, Richard Ravitch. The plan calls for a payroll tax that would immediately plug the budget deficit by generating $1.5 billion a year paid for by businesses in the region of MTA services.

The recommendations by Ravitch also call for East and Harlem River bridge tolls, which would generate approximately $600 million a year for the state and would be used to improve bus service in the city.

State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, who was present at the vote on Wednesday, says it is time to put that pressure on the state to adopt the recommendations, which will hopefully save the Cross Bay Bridge rebate program.

"I am angry and very disappointed that they passed this so-called doomsday budget," she said. "I feel we still have a good argument for the resident rebate program."

There is good news for Rockaway, however, considering all the budget cuts that will be occurring throughout the city. The rehabilitation of the Rockaway Freeway elevated A line is still expected to be carried out starting next year.

The $142 million in these repairs also survived the capital plan cuts that were announced earlier this year. Improvements to the dreadful conditions along the peninsula's subway platforms and elevated support structure will include an overhaul of the Mott Avenue station with the installation of an elevator, Braille directional signage, and platform upgrades that will reduce the gap between the platform and the train doors.

Also in the plans are repairs to the stations between Beach 25 Street and Beach 105 Street. Work at these stations will include replacing corroded stairs and columns and rehabilitating the mezzanine and track drainage systems. At all stations, new lighting systems will be installed to improve security. New platform canopies will also be installed at the Beach 90, 98 and 105 Street stations for weather protection.

The repairs coming next year have long been lobbied for by local community activists and elected officials amidst the deteriorating conditions along the Rockaway Freeway el.

Last week, Fox-5 TV reported that a woman was driving past Beach 49 Street, beneath the el along the Rockaway Freeway when her car was struck by a grapefruit sized piece of falling concrete.

According to the report, Arina Kotlyarsky said the concrete chunk fell from above and crashed on top of her SUV's roof between the sunroof and windshield, forcing her interior console to collapse from the impact.

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