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Transportation Secretary Listens In On Islanders' Concerns

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While Tuesday's weather prevented U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood from showing up at a scheduled visit with local officials on Staten Island, he was able to get an earful via telephone. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.

About 50 community leaders packed the meeting room at the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce Tuesday afternoon for the chance to meet United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in person. LaHood couldn't make it in person, so those representing the Island had to settle for a phone conference instead.

"I think this was a good first step in having the Secretary of the Department of Transportation know about Staten Island, understand our issues, have a first hand knowledge. I would have preferred to get him here," said Congressman Michael McMahon.

The nearly hour-long conference call, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and Congressman McMahon, gave Islanders a chance to fill La Hood in on the borough's transit woes.

Residents on Staten Island face the longest commute in the entire country. If the borough were a state transportation experts say it would rank seventh among states across the country that have the highest tolls.

Stimulus dollars have been allocated to make repairs to the St. George Ferry Terminal and to the Staten Island Expressway. But most still believe the Island is seriously shortchanged when it comes to federal transit dollars.

"Second Avenue subway, the East Side Access project. And so those projects have been taking the bulk of the resources and my concern is that they're not looking at serving all. Only certain people are served by certain projects and I want to make sure everybody is included in the opportunity to have access to mobility," said Jonathan Peters of the College of Staten Island.

LaHood said he was open to the idea of helping the borough out with its concerns.

"The value of these meetings is so I can hear stuff like this and address issues like this and I'm gonna go back and take a look at it," LaHood said.

Several suggestions were offered to the transportation secretary. Among them, using Staten Island as a location for a federal transportation pilot study.

"Take a look at us and see what you can do here. See what fast ferry pilot program or a train over a bridge or a train under a tunnel. Something like that," said Community board 1 member Leticia Remauro.

While LaHood couldn't make any promises on a pilot study, he did say he would love to schedule a visit in person for the near future.

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