Cross Bay’s Long Toll Fight

 Cross Bay’s Long Toll Fight

By Dan Guarino

On December 7, Governor Kathy Hochul announced the toll rebate program currently open to Broad Channel/Rockaway residents will be extended to all Queens residents with E-ZPass starting in February, effectively making the Cross Bay Bridge crossing free for those in the borough.

While many have had mostly positive and some skeptical reactions to the announcement, some know this news has been decades in the making. It’s part of a fifty year toll fight that still goes on.

About NYC’s only toll charged within the same borough, let alone the same zip code, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, states “Finally, the MTA and the Governor have listened and are implementing the removal of a barrier to secure economic opportunities for everyone in Queens.” It was through the long-term efforts of Amato and State Senator Joeseph Addabbo, that legislation making it possible was finally passed.

Local resident, real estate agent and entrepreneur Patrick “Paddy Tubz” Tubridy notes, “The tolls on the Rockaway bridges have suffocated economic development on the peninsula. No corporations want to open up where their businesses, employees, delivery trucks, and customers will have to pay a toll back and forth.” That’s why, he says, “Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Amazon all do risk analysis reports before they open stores in neighborhoods. The tolls are a detriment to such growth and eliminate more potential job opportunities.”

Dorothy McCloskey, a Howard Beach civic leader for 25 years, grew up in Broad Channel and has many relatives there. “My children live in Rockaway. It has been a financial burden to us. With my husband taking care of the grandkids, my E-ZPass was $300 to $500 a month. We are over that bridge six or seven times a day. It was very unfair to have to pay to see your family,” she said.

She notes, too, many more people may use the ferry now that they no longer have to pay a round-trip toll just to get to it.

Dorothy Wagner offers, “I’m glad they’re expanding the program but would love to see the toll abolished to not only free up traffic but also help all the restaurants and shops see more business.”

Most comments online, including from Rockaway/Broad Channel residents, expressed support of the new program, citing others’ ability to now go to the beach, enjoy the Rockaways and even visit with family without an extra charge. “Sounds like a great thing for local small business, might make the unbearably slow season a little less slow and a little bit more bearable” wrote Terence McNicholas.

Others, while positive, were a little more cautious. As Rosanne Lanzone Shevlin expressed, “That’s great for businesses in Rockaway, but expect more traffic clogging our little town.”

“Brace yourself. Here come the masses of DFDs!” Rob P. noted, referring to Rockaway’s not always welcome “Down For the Day” visitors.  Said Greg O’Brien, “More people coming to Rockaway in the summer months. That means more parking tickets for the city!!!”

The fight against the Cross Bay Toll has been more than 50 years in the making, with dozens of rallies over the years, with fierce advocates like Dan Tubridy and the late Lew Simon being among the loudest early voices against it.

Dan Tubridy, Patrick Tubridy’s father and longtime resident, civic leader, former political candidate, business and property owner, has been one of the people leading the toll fight from the beginning. The large multi-generational Tubridy family members of Broad Channel and Rockaway are very active in community and civic life and owners of numerous properties and businesses, such as The Rockaway Hotel and Bungalow Bar. The toll remains an ongoing issue for them, too.

As Tubridy relates, around 1968-69, the toll went “from a dime to quarter. I was actually working at the bridge as a temp toll collector and collected the first quarter. When they raised from a quarter to 50 cents around 1973, that’s when we started the fight.”

“We did it in such a way that would slow down the traffic but would not be breaking the law,” he says. Tactics included leading caravans of drivers, each supplied with $20 bills, around and around through ‘til toll collectors ran out of change. Or paying tolls in all pennies, which had to be counted out, thus also effectively shutting down operations. They also found that $1 US would buy 50 Irish 2-pence, or “2p” coins, which they used in place of the same sized bridge tokens then in use.

They also began going to MTA meetings, where toll policies were set, to protest and present them with facts. “We generated as much press as we could. And applied as much political pressure as we could.” The MTA was not pleased.

In 1991, Tubridy was arrested. One day he left his Pier 92 restaurant (now Bungalow Bar) in Rockaway to bring his children to the doctor. Before U-turns were prohibited, he would pick them up in Broad Channel before the toll to avoid paying it twice. A toll collector later claimed in an affidavit, Tubridy had tried to run him over. In a separate statement, however, he swore instead that Tubridy had merely pointed his car at him. Neither of which, Tubridy confirms, was true. Due to the agent’s “conflicting” official statements, the case was dropped.

In 1997, Tubridy ran into old friend Rudy Washington, Deputy Mayor under Rudolph Giuliani. After hearing about the ongoing toll fight, Washington said he would see what he could do. Although the MTA would not budge on abolishing the toll, Washington was able to bring about a compromise—a free trip for residents. Ceding major credit to Washington, Tubridy says, “Effectively, we got what we wanted. I think it was January 1, 1998. I got in my car to be one of the first and make sure I got the rebate.”

But, Tubridy cautions, “The stroke of a pen gave it to us. And it’s the stroke of pen that can take it away.” Since the toll itself has not been eliminated, any rebate program can be repealed at any time. Indeed, although later re-instated, the MTA suspended the toll rebate in 2020 and 2008, citing Covid revenue drops and budget shortfalls respectively.

For now, Tubridy says the new expanded rebate is a positive, “Queens residents will be able to come and really see our beautiful Rockaway…without an unjust tax.”

But until the toll is completely abolished, the 50-year fight goes on.

Photos by Dan Guarino.

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