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New Rockaway ferry route to Wall Street awash in funding brouhaha

Updated Monday, May 12th 2008, 11:45 AM

Lombard for News

American Princess docks at Sunset Park, an intermediate stop on the new Rockaway-to-Wall Street route. The new service begins Monday.

Transportation-starved Rockaway residents are getting another commuting option, but some believe the new ferry service is destined to fail.

Critics also are wary of the city's financial commitment to the project because it has allocated only a fraction of the money available from city and federal sources.

The ferry, which is to make its maiden voyage tomorrow from Riis Landing in Breezy Point to Wall St., is part of a two-year pilot program and is being funded by City Council dollars earmarked by Councilman Joseph Addabbo.

Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said he has secured $1.8 million since 2002.
But the city budget for the ferry is $1.1 million, according to the mayor's office.

"If you do the math, it's a little off," said Addabbo. "I have to talk about that with the administration. I have to find out where [the $700,000] is."

Rep. Anthony Weiner, who previously secured $15 million for a ferry service from the Rockaways to Manhattan, said he was left out of the negotiations and his money wasn't used for the project.

"Fifteen million was not a number I pulled out of the air. It's roughly the cost to buy three fast ferries," said Weiner, who was conspicuously absent from Monday's news conference announcing the launch with Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

"My original vision was for the city to buy the boats. The city said they didn't want them and went in a different direction," said Weiner (D-Queens, Brooklyn).

New York Water Taxi, in conjunction with TWFM Ferry, will operate the new service. Boats will leave Riis Landing at 5:45 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., stopping to pick up passengers in Sunset Park and arriving at Pier 11 near Wall St. an hour after leaving the Rockaways.

Returning boats will depart Manhattan at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The chief of New York Water Taxi said the viability of the new ferry depends on whether the city extends service to Mill Basin or Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, allowing for more passengers.

"The real success of this service will be determined on if we get a dock on the other side of the bay," said Tom Fox of New York Water Taxi. "It would be a slam dunk. I'm certain of that."

But some Rockaway advocates said the departure times are not frequent enough and are impractical for most peninsula residents. And adding a stop in Brooklyn would just add to commuting woes, they said.

"This should be the Rockaway ferry - not the Sunset Park-and-Rockaway ferry," said Joe Hartigan, a longtime proponent of a Rockaway ferry service.

Critics also said that departing from Riis Landing - far from the major thoroughfares in the Rockaways - is a major hassle for commuters, especially should they miss evening ferries.

Weiner said he is talking with the National Park Service, and plans to use the $15 million for other New York Harbor ferries.

"One of the reasons I ran for mayor [in 2005] is because we need ferry service," he said. "Not just for the peninsula, but for western Queens, Sheepshead Bay, Riverdale and others."

Bloomberg said the city is still open to using Weiner's money, but added that ridership will be the determining factor in the success of the Rockaway ferry. "We're not going to walk away from 15 million bucks," Bloomberg said on Monday.

"If nobody uses the ferries, they're not going to survive, no matter what anybody promises you."

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