Toll You So!
Newly elected Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder scored his first major victory in Albany this week when the Governor proposed, in his 2012 preliminary budget, to reinstate the CBB resident rebate program for Broad Channel and Rockaway residents.
When elected in November, Goldfeder pledged to make the CBB toll one of his top priorities within the first year of his term. As most residents know, the MTA budgetary restraints prompted the revocation of the rebate back in 2010 after more than a decade of having Rockaway and Broad Channel resident traverse the Cross Bay Bridge for free. At that time, a compromise was passed that was considered unfair to most. It allowed the MTA to charge EZ-Pass residents $1.13 for the first two trips across the bridge before subsequent trips became free of charge. In addition, the tolls increased last year to $1.19 for residents.
This “compromise” never sat well with the community or legislators who have continuously fought not only for free passing by local residents but for everyone in Queens. The amount of money the MTA saved by taking the rebate away from residents totaled slightly more than $4 million, a minute fraction of the MTA operating budget. Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal calls on the state to pay the MTA for costs associated with the resident rebate program.
“The proposed toll discount program is truly a victory for the residents of the Rockaways and Broad Channel,” Goldfeder said in a statement. “I am proud to work with the community, my colleagues and the Governor to ensure that struggling families are given the relief they deserve from this unfair burden.”
According to Goldfeder, the toll hinders the growth of Rockaway’s economy especially in a time when a renewed interest in the Rockaways is taking place. It places an excessive financial burden on the residents and small businesses of the community at a time when they are trying to grow. Goldfeder along with others in the community have been relentless advocates for the complete abolishment of a toll on the Cross Bay Bridge. In the fall of 2011, Goldfeder sent a letter to MTA President Joseph Lhota, asking that the MTA reinstate the full residency discount. Shortly after, he sent Lhota a petition with 2,000 signatures in support of the toll’s elimination. “From the many civic and community leaders who rallied, to the thousands of community members who signed our petition, we are one step closer to successfully eliminating this toll completely and lifting a significant financial burden off the shoulders of many hardworking families and businesses in Rockaway and Broad Channel,“ Goldfeder continued.
This victory for the community still needs to be finalized with the remaining items in Cuomo’s 2012 budget, which if passed on time, could reinstate the rebate before the summer.
Dan Mundy Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association, says that Broad Channel residents, who share the same zip code with their Rockaway neighbors and often have to cross the bridge to conduct most basic civic duties, are relieved to hear the news.
“We thank the governor and assemblyman for reinstating the rebate. Speaking specifically from a Broad Channel perspective, being an island community, this has had a tremendous impact on us. We had to pay a toll to conduct basic civic affairs,” Mundy Jr. said. “It’s a great first step, but we would ultimately like to see total elimination so it’s not re-imposed in the future. This is a great start for the assemblyman and a great accomplishment in a short period of time.”
New York City Councilmember Eric Ulrich is supportive of the proposal as well.
“I applaud Governor Cuomo for including the Cross Bay Bridge toll rebate program in his Executive Budget. The residents of Rockaway and Broad Channel are finally getting the break they deserve. Over the next few months, I will be working side-by-side with our elected officials in Albany to make sure that the rebate is adopted by the State Legislature in the final budget. This is a big step in the right direction and I am optimistic that they will get the job done,” he said.
Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, who has led protests and rallies to eliminate the toll, is proud of Goldfeder and the job he has done to this point.
“We will continue the fight so all Queens residents will be able to cross for free.” Simon said. “Goldfeder is young, energetic and we’re proud of him.”