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Boro leaders mull congestion fixes after $8 fee dies

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to charge drivers $8 to drive into Manhattan below 60th Street during business hours did not sit well with many in Queens. Their dissent was reflected in the state Assembly, where Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) did not bring the plan to a vote, citing a lack of support. Of the 18 Queens members of the Assembly, the 12 who responded to the TimesLedger's inquiries said they would not have voted for the plan had it come to a vote."The state Assembly should be applauded for hearing their constituents' concerns about the burden of a new tax with no guarantees loud and clear and putting the brakes on once and for all," said former City Councilman Walter McCaffrey, who has been lobbying for Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free, an umbrella organization of businesses.While the funeral procession for congestion pricing may have started, City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee, said Monday that something still needs to be done to attack the growing problem of traffic congestion in the five boroughs, such as bolstering express bus service."We're really going to have to think outside the box here," he said. "We may not be able to get new express bus lines at this point, but I think we can hopefully at least get more frequency on the lines that currently exist."Had congestion pricing been approved by the state, the city would have received $354 million in federal funding that Bloomberg said would have gone toward the creation of seven new bus routes in Queens and additional buses on 13 existing bus routes headed toward Manhattan.The Daily News reported last week that James Simpson, head of the Federal Transit Administration, urged supporters of the plan to keep fighting for it, suggesting other funding might be available in the future.City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), however, suggested a bolder plan."My proposal is to legalize sports betting in the city and the state," said Avella, who is also a 2009 mayoral candidate. "It's estimated that there is $100 billion across the country in organized crime illegal sports betting activity. The money made off of this in the city is estimated at $15 billion alone. So why not take the money away from the criminals, take the profits and invest them in transit?""We're making an issue out of $354 million, but we're talking about $15 billion here," he said.State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) submitted his own alternative legislation last year and said he plans to continue pushing for alternatives to Bloomberg's plan. Lancman's bill, which never reached the floor for a vote, called for the expansion of express bus service, incentives for telecommuting and car pooling, improved traffic enforcement and measures to shift commercial traffic to non-peak periods."If the mayor is serious about reducing congestion, there are lots of people with lots of different ideas that would love the opportunity to bring those to the table," Lancman said.Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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