If Rockaway residents want the plan to rescind the rebate they receive when they cross the Cross Bay Bridge revoked, they better show up in large numbers at the MTA hearing planned for Flushing March 2, Democratic District Leader Lew Simon said.
“Tonight, we need to get united. If we don’t work together, this toll’s coming back,” Simon told Rockaway residents during a “community strategy meeting” in Rockaway Park last Thursday.
Rockaway and Broad Channel residents get an instant rebate when they use the Cross Bay Bridge to enter Howard Beach and mainland Queens. The crossing is the only place in the city where there is a fee to enter another part of the same borough.
“Unfortunately, the new director of the MTA, who happens to be a former classmate of mine ... feels the need to put the toll back for the residents,” Simon said, referring to Rockaway native Jay Walder.
Simon voiced his outrage over the toll plan when Gov. David Paterson held a town hall meeting two weeks ago at Far Rockaway High School.
The Democratic district leader said his comments prompted a call from a “very high up official from the MTA” last week.
“I said, ‘Why are you picking on us again? Why don’t you pick on the Staten Island ferry?’” and charge ferry riders $6, Simon said. “I said, ‘We’re a small pimple on the butt of the MTA.’”
Simon said state Senate President Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) was “prepared to bring a lawsuit” if the toll rebate is rescinded.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority scheduled a public hearing on its proposals at 6 p.m. March 2 at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in Flushing.
Simon said part of the problem is that some Rockaway and Broad Channel residents are unaware of the MTA’s plan.
“A lot of people have no idea they want to put the toll back on the bridge,” he said.
Simon said he had plans to protest.
“We’re going to take the bridge by storm again, sit on the bridge and block traffic,” Simon said. “We’re going to tell them we plan to rally.”
Simon said residents who plan to attend the public hearing need to make themselves visible.
“What really needs to be done is handmade signs. They’ll read what you have on those signs,” he said.
Simon suggested, “Why is Rockaway the stepchild of the city?” as a slogan.
He said residents who have children, grandchildren or handicapped kids should bring them to the hearing in an attempt to gain sympathy with MTA board members.
“They look for that. They eat that up,” he said. “I’m hoping we pack so many people into that hearing they get tired of hearing the word, ‘Rockaway.’”
Maureen Abernethy, a Rockaway Park resident who attended the meeting, said her family would take a huge financial hit if the toll rebate were lifted.
“It would cost over $1,000 a month for my husband and I to go to work every day,” she said. “I feel like we get taxed left and right in the Rockaways.”
Claire O’Sullivan of Rockaway Park said there are few shops on the peninsula.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the retail stores that Howard Beach does,” she said. “There’s no movie theaters, there’s nothing.”
Andrew McGee of Belle Harbor said it would be “devastating” if the toll rebate were rescinded.
“We do most of our shopping in Howard Beach,” he said. “It’ll cost us a lot of money.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz
©2010 Community News Group
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