This past year has proven to be one of the most difficult and challenging for all the families and businesses in Southern Queens and Rockaway struggling to recover from Sandy. Now is the time to help rebuild our homes and economy, but more importantly prepare and create resilient communities for the future by investing in our transit infrastructure.
It’s unfortunate that it took a natural disaster for us to finally receive the attention we desperately need for better transportation alternatives. Community leaders and residents have been struggling and fighting for too long and as we discovered with Sandy, the severe lack of quick and accessible transit options has proven to have detrimental repercussions.
Utilizing our waterfront for ferry service to create easy and efficient transportation must continue and be made permanent. The economic activity generated by ferry use far outweighs the cost of the subsidy. I started a petition to urge the mayor to continue to invest in our community, and in only a few short weeks it garnered more than 3,000 signatures. I want to thank everyone that signed the petition and the community leaders who joined me in delivering them to City Hall.
I am proud that our hard work has already paid off with a commitment from the mayor to continue our ferry service through Labor Day, but the fight will continue. The Port Authority in the past has expressed interest in possible transportation initiatives. Resorts World at Aqueduct has also committed to meeting with ferry operators to determine feasibility for their inclusion in the ferry service. Our community is not asking for special treatment, but rather fair and equitable service comparable to other communities across the city.
In addition to the ferry, we must also look at increasing rail options to provide transit relief for residents and visitors. I have been and continue to be a staunch advocate for the complete restoration and rehabilitation of the abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line. Beginning in the early ’60s, parts of the railroad located in Southern Queens and Rockaway were condensed, sectioned off and eventually closed. However, today the right of way for the rail line still remains intact and could potentially provide residents and visitors with safe, affordable and expedient access to other parts of the borough with 40-minute commute times or less to Midtown Manhattan
Our coalition has grown to include thousands of residents from every part of Queens including Congressmen Greg Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries. I have had many conversations with the Governor’s office and relevant agencies and I am optimistic that we will soon see progress.
Finally, my first accomplishment as an elected official was to bring back the residency rebate for the toll on the Cross Bay Bridge, which covers the costs of travel for Broad Channel and Rockaway families through E-Z Pass reimbursement. The rebate is only the first step towards eliminating this toll for all Queens residents. We should be encouraging visitors to our neighborhood stores and restaurants to grow our economy instead of charging a fee.
While Sandy may have slowed us down, it has not deterred our spirit and desire to recover and grow. We have a long way to go, and investing in Southern Queens and Rockaway’s transportation infrastructure is the right choice. More accessible transportation will increase public travel options for every borough and city resident, help our environment, boost our struggling economy and increase intra-borough connectivity to create jobs for our residents and increase customers for local businesses. Now is the time to help rebuild our homes and economy, but more importantly prepare and create resilient communities for the future by investing in our transit infrastructure.
Phillip Goldfeder is New York State Assemblyman for the 23rd District, in South Queens and the Rockaways.