Boro lawmakers sponsor bills to keep Rockaway toll rebate

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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) have announced they plan to reintroduce legislation to protect toll bridge discounts for residents of Rockaway and Broad Channel.

“Rockaway and Broad Channel residents have some of the longest, most complicated commutes in America, and without residential toll discounts they would face the most expensive commutes as well,” Schumer said.

Since July, residents of Broad Channel and Rockaway with E-ZPasses have paid a toll of $1.19 — a 63.4 percent discount — per trip. At this point, only the first two trips across the Cross Bay Bridge per day using an E-ZPass are rebated. The cash toll is now $3.25 a trip.

Prior to July these residents using E-ZPasses paid $1.13 in tolls but received rebates on all trips across the bridge. The cash rate used to be $2.75 one way.

“Unlike most of the rest of New York, residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaways often have to pay a toll to get to or from their homes and work and more,” Schumer said. “The Cross Bay Bridge serves as the main link between the Broad Channel and Rockaway communities and local residents rely on these toll discounts to make their daily trips across the bridge affordable. By introducing this legislation, we can ensure that these fair and necessary residential discount programs will hold up in court.”

The Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act of 2011 provides express congressional authorization for local governments to issue or grant transportation tolls, user fees or fare discount programs based on residential status.

The legislation, originally introduced in 2009 and passed by the House unanimously, came in response to a court case that challenged toll discounts in upstate New York. This month, a judge in Rhode Island announced that he would issue a written ruling on a case that could strike down a similar toll discount program.

As the number of cases grows, Schumer and Weiner said the legislation is more necessary than ever to ward off similar lawsuits that could invalidate the toll discount in Broad Channel and the Rockaways.

“With many Rockaway residents unfairly forced to pay the city’s only intra-borough toll every time they go to the grocery store, the least we can do is ensure that they continue to get discounts,” Weiner said. “This legislation will do just that.”

State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) has fought for years in a campaign aimed at eliminating the tolls for her constituents.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

Updated 10:41 am, October 12, 2011
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