By Karen Frantz
Hurricane Sandy transformed the Rockaways in many ways, both for the worse and better, but there is one change the storm brought about that some residents and elected officials are saying they especially hope will remain permanent: the Rockaway Beach Ferry Service.
“I love the ferry,” said Rockaways resident Madeline Moch. “I hope they continue it forever.”
Moch, who was taking the subway Sunday from the Rockaways to Manhattan to pick up her sister because the ferry does not run on weekends, was waiting for the shuttle to carry her to the subway by 2 p.m. She was not due to meet her sister until 4.
She said she always has to allow extra time when taking the subway, which takes about an hour and half to Manhattan if she makes all her connections.
But when she rides the ferry, she said the trip is less than an hour to Manhattan. Moreover, the ride offers beautiful views and she usually finds a place to sit, she said.
“It’s a fun, nice way to go,” she said.
Salvatore Lopizzo, founder of the YANA Community Center in Rockaway Park, is also a fan of the ferry, saying it could help bring economic development to the Rockaways if made permanent.
“Even if they raise it to $5, it’s worth it,” he said. The ferry currently costs $2 to ride one way.
The ferry, which departs from Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive in the Rockaways and runs to the Brooklyn Army Terminal on 58th Street and Pier 11 and East 34th Street in Manhattan, was initiated as a way to relieve transportation woes caused by the A-train subway washout that halted service between the peninsula and mainland Queens after Sandy.
Subway service was restored in May and Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently said the ferry will continue to run through Jan. 31. It is unclear whether the service will be extended after that time, however, although some lawmakers said they were pushing hard for its continuation.
“It’s the ferry I believe [the city and mayor] should spend their attention on,” said state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).
He said ridership has been consistent on the ferry and that it is a convenient and pleasurable way to travel between the Rockaways and Manhattan.
State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) also said he is pushing for the ferry to remain permanent. He said he called on mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota to pledge their support for continuation of the service, which he said both have done.
He pointed to the recent expansion of the free ferry service for Staten Island as evidence the city could keep the Rockaway ferry running.
“If other residents of New York City can get free ferry service around the clock, there’s no reason Rockaway residents can’t get that as well,” he said.
But beyond the ferry, transportation has largely returned to its pre-Sandy state in the Rockaways, Goldfeder and Addabbo said. About 1,500 feet of subway tracks running across Jamaica Bay that were completely washed out by Sandy have been restored, and a sheet wall was erected along the right of way to prevent washouts and debris getting onto the tracks during future storms.
Kevin Ortiz, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said there is still hundreds of millions of dollars worth of additional infrastructure work to be done in the Rockaways to fully restore the A line, including some signal repairs.
Goldfeder is also pushing for additional transportation options on the peninsula, including reactivation of the abandoned Rockaway Beach line, which would open a portion of the Long Island Rail Road in the Rockaways. A recent MTA assessment of its 20-year capital needs identified the Rockaway Beach branch as an option under consideration.
But Ortiz said there is currently no commitment or funding for the branch, and Addabbo said he is putting more energy into keeping the ferry active because the Rockaway rail line faces major uphill battles.
But both Goldfeder and Addabbo agreed that more transportation options need to be brought to the Rockaways, which did not have a good track record even before Sandy hit.
“It took a natural disaster for the city to pay attention,” Goldfeder said.