Rockaway residents may soon find their burdens lighter — at least while trekking across the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, a discount program could see Rockaway and Broad Channel residents reimbursed for their travels.
Rockaway motorists with an E-Z Pass currently pay $1.19 each time they drive along the Cross Bay Bridge for up to two trips a day. While additional crossings are free afterward, local elected officials and residents have long deemed the toll a problem.
The toll was free for residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaways for 12 years, but was reinstated by the MTA in 2010.
Now that fares could be relinquished once again for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents, local elected officials — who have championed against the toll for many years — revel in a victory won while they look ahead to ending the toll boroughwide.
“We have been advocating relentlessly to end the toll on the Cross Bay Bridge,” said Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder, who has been a staunch advocate for a complete toll 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.”
The assemblymember added that the toll negatively affects an already sluggish local economy and places an inherently excessive financial burden on the residents and small businesses of southern Queens and Rockaway.
According to Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, the proposal could stimulate more activity and revenue between Rockaway and Broad Channel businesses.
“It certainly will be positive. Broad Channel residents will more likely come in to Rockaway now,” Gaska said, adding that residents could save between $800 and $1,500 a year if the program passes.
But Gaska said businesses on the peninsula are not likely to see a “big boom.”
“Residents outside still have to pay,” he said. “The toll stifles economic growth within our community. It keeps tourists from coming into Rockaway, and all local businesses still have to pay for their trucks and vehicles going in and out of Rockaway. It’s been a significant problem for us.”
Still, Democratic Assembly District Leader Lew Simon said the discount is a giant step in the right direction.
“I was very much ecstatic. I was one of the happiest men on Earth when I heard,” said Simon, who for many years has rallied much opposition against the toll. “We’ve been fighting like hell to get rid of this toll to make sure the residents don’t pay it. I’m very excited with the governor’s decision, but I feel like all Queens residents should not be paying this unfair toll.”
The discount program is expected to go into immediate effect once the budget is signed nearing the end of March.