Volunteer Groups Helping With Recovery in the Rockaways Angry Over Re-Instated Tolls

NY Daily News - December 06, 2012

by Henrick Karoliszyn

Fees for the Cross Bay Bridge and Marine Parkway Bridge are vexing those who want to continue helping the peninsula in Sandy's aftermath

If you want to be a Good Samaritan in the Rockaways, you'll now have to pay for the privilege.

Storm recovery volunteers said they are feeling slighted over the reinstated tolls for the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge and the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Bridge.

"People are suffering and it is a slap in the face to add to our expenses by charging the tolls," said Joan Dunne, the founder of LIC Cares, who has trekked to lend a hand in Rockaway every day since the storm touched down.

"It would have been great if this situation had been resolved in a month but it is nowhere near that," she said.

The $3.25 cash and $1.80 E-ZPass fees to access the Cross Bay Bridge or the Marine Parkway Bridge into Rockaway were suspended for November following Superstorm Sandy. The tolls were reinstated on Dec. 1.

With the fees back, some locals are worried that outside help will wane.

"I hope it doesn't slow our flow of amazing and desperately needed volunteers," said Jaime Jordan, 32, who helped launch Rockawayhelp.com. "The City and State of New York could show solidarity with these devastated communities and do that through actions, like suspending tolls."

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the agency is unable to suspend toll charges further due to budgetary concerns.

"The MTA is required to get a flow of revenue," said the spokesman.

Terence Tubridy, 32, who co-owns Bungalow Bar, which was destroyed, said the peninsula still needs volunteers and that tolls are not helping the situation.

"We're getting an influx of volunteers on weekends," he said. "Why would you charge people who are trying to help? Is the MTA helping us or are they against us?"

MTA officials commended the work of volunteers but insisted they can not budge on toll relief.

"For volunteers, whose efforts we are all grateful for, the MTA does not have it in its power to suspend the tolls," said the spokesman. "We don't have the luxury."

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) said he would continue fighting to suspend the toll..

"I have been the champion for the complete elimination of the tolls of the Cross Bay Bridge," he said.

Richard Smith, 31, a firefighter who grew up in Broad Channel and helped Rockaway in the aftermath of Sandy called the bridge fees "despicable."

"It really sends the message that the city cares more about money than the people," he said.