On Friday, May 5th, the Federal Highway Administration signed off on the MTA’s congestion pricing plan, moving the project forward. The FHA was tasked with assessing the environmental impact of implementing tolls throughout New York City streets, specifically in parts of Manhattan.
The MTA’s congestion pricing plan, which was first approved in 2019, was initially part of a plan by Andy Byford, former New York City Transit President, to buy new trains and fix the broken signals in the city’s subway system. The plan now, as unveiled in August 2022, could charge drivers anywhere between $9-$23 in tolls for driving into certain parts of Manhattan. When first announced, MTA chief Janno Lieber said, “The tremendous detail included in this assessment makes clear the widespread benefits that would result from central business district tolling. Bottom Line: this is good for the environment, good for public transit, and good for New York and the region.”
The plan to establish toll zones below 60th Street has not moved into the final phase, a 30-day public review, before receiving approval from the federal government. John J. McCarthy, MTA’s Chief of External Relations, said the Federal Highway Administration’s signing off of the assessment was a green light for the plan and celebrated accordingly. In a statement, McCarthy said, “Congestion pricing is a generational opportunity to make it easier for people to get around in, and get to, the Central Business District, by reducing traffic and funding improvements to the public transit system.”
Governor Kathy Hochul’s office also celebrated the signing off of the MTA’s plan, calling it a “critical step.” A statement from the governor’s spokesman John Linsday said, “Governor Hochul is committed to implementing congestion pricing to reduce traffic, improve air quality, and support our public transit system. We’ve worked closely with partners across government and with community members over the last four years to develop a plan that will achieve these goals. The finding of legal sufficiency is a critical step that will allow our Environmental Assessment to be publicly available for anyone to read, and we will continue to work with our partners to move congestion pricing forward.”
The MTA has acknowledged that if the program is passed, traffic to other areas of New York City, specifically truck traffic in the South Bronx, would rise exponentially. The environmental assessment by the MTA showed the plan could force 700 extra trucks to enter the South Bronx per day. The MTA said it would make a list of concessions and investments in an effort to offset the negative impact the program will have on other parts of New York City. Since the plan is projected to generate $1 billion in revenue, the MTA said it would put aside bonds upwards of $15 billion for repairs.
Criticism, both from inside the city and outside, has followed the announcement, with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy saying New Jersey residents would be most impacted by the new toll zones. Governor Murphy released a statement on Twitter, saying, “Today’s decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation to allow New York’s congestion pricing plan to move forward is unfair and ill-advised. The Administration’s decision to move forward without a true environmental impact study undercuts some of the Administration’s own long-term goals.”
His statement continued, “Since day one, I’ve stood against the disproportionate impacts of congestion pricing on New Jerseyans – a greater financial burden on New Jersey commuters, double tolling, toll shopping, a lack of revenue for NJ Transit, outside environmental burdens on certain North Jersey communities, and financial impacts on the Port Authority’s capital budget. Everyone in the region deserves access to more reliable mass transit, but placing an unjustified financial burden on the backs of hardworking New Jersey Commuters is wrong. Simply put, it is a money grab.”
As it stands, taxi cabs would be exempt from the congestion fee. The plan allows for outer-borough and New Jersey commuters to subtract the tolls paid at tunnels when crossing into Manhattan from their congestion fees, but requires the full $23 congestion fee to drivers that enter Manhattan through a free bridge such as the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queensboro, or Williamsburg bridges. The plan also allowed New Yorkers that make less than $60,000 a year and live below 60th Street to claim the toll fees on their state income taxes.
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