2009-01-30 / Top Stories

CB 14: Cross Bay Bridge Toll Violates Civil Rights

By Nicholas Briano

The Cross Bay Bridge resident rebate program means a lot to the residents of Rockaway and Broad Channel and many are determined to pursue a more aggressive legal approach to prevent the MTA from cutting it from their upcoming budget.

Some might even call the plan to bring in a civil rights group into the mix ti nip the MTA plan, "creatiuve."

Community Board 14 has joined activists in calling upon the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) to come to their aid, claiming the toll is not only wrong, but an infringement on their first amendment civil rights.

The MTA has proposed to eliminate the rebate to help close their $1.2 billion budget gap. The agency estimates it could save $3.6 million a year if the rebate is removed, a number many residents feel wouldn't help much in closing the gap.

Community leaders say an intraborough toll, and more specifically an intra-zip code toll, which is what the Cross Bay Bridge entails, is not only a violation of first amendment rights, but also of provisions of the state Constitution and of the City Charter as well. "This unjust toll places an undue burden on the hardworking residents of Community Board 14," Jonathan Gaska, District Manager of Com-munity 14 wrote in a letter to the NYCLU. He also explains to the NYCLU in the letter that many Broad Channel residents are forced to bring their kids to school and go to church in Rockaway, because of the lack of these institutions in Broad Channel.

"The removal of this rebate will require Broad Channel and Rockaway residents to pay a toll to go to the post office, pick up their children, access our local hospital, go food shopping, as well as requiring residents to pay a government toll to go to their house of worship," Gaska also wrote in the letter.

Gaska said that Community Board 14 has not heard back from the NYCLU yet. The toll rebate is in jeopardy ten years after it was originally put in place to allow Rockaway and Broad Channel residents to cross the bridge for free as long as they utilize an EZ-Pass device.

Insiders say that the rebate was put into place for political reason and they need politics to play a role.

To prevent the suspension of this program, MTA fare increases and service cuts, state legislators must come up with alternate plans or funding by March 25, the date MTA board members hold the final vote on the proposal. Therefore, if the NYCLU doesn't aid the cause or the state legislative body doesn't bail out the agency, residents with an EZ-Pass could expect to pay $1.03 each way to get back and forth from the Rockaways to Broad Channel as early as this June.

Community Board 14 estimates that the removal of the program could cost residents up to thousands of dollars a year.

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