By Doug Auer
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- State Sen. Diane J. Savino fielded questions from constituents last night during a live virtual town hall meeting hosted from the Senate floor in Albany.
The hour-long session featured Sen. Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) responding to transportation concerns submitted via phone calls, Facebook.com and e-mails from people living in the 23rd Senate District.
"For the people of Staten Island, there are studies that show that we have the highest commute in the nation -- on average," she said.
The video was moderated by Julia Lilkendey of Senate media services and broadcast onto the Senate's Web site. It was viewed by just over 40 people in real-time, according to an onscreen ticker monitoring hits.
The first comment came from an Islander inquiring about the quality of Access-A-Ride service. In her response, the senator was critical of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's decision to eliminate a contract with RJR Paratransit.
A man identified as George from Graniteville was curious about renovations to the Staten Island Expressway. Sen. Savino outlined how the state Department of Transportation will be adding exit and entrance ramps and creating truck incline lanes to relieve the bottleneck near Todt Hill. She also noted the demolition of the defunct Brooklyn-bound tollbooths at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Sen. Savino also wants to increase vehicle occupancy for cars traveling the SIE bus/HOV lane to three-plus people, like on the Gowanus Expressway.
"It's not only smart, it's environmental because it will encourage more people to utilize the HOV lane and carpool," she said.
In a similar vein, Sen. Savino noted that she is fighting for restoration of some local and express bus routes before proposed MTA cuts go into effect June 28.
"[The MTA] has gotten away with shortchanging Staten Island for a very long time," said Sen. Savino, though she did compliment MTA Chairman Jay Walder's efforts later in the telecast.
Mention by Dorothy in Coney Island of the toll on the Verrazano Bridge brought an eruption by the senator.
"The $11 fee on that bridge is egregious and it is discriminatory, particularly to people who live in Staten Island," she said, pointing out that the toll accounts for 22 percent of total MTA toll revenue -- 60 percent of which is then used to subsidize Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road operations.
Amy from New Brighton wondered whether the former North Shore Rail Line would ever become operational again...
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