NYC Congestion Pricing Plan Can Proceed After Nod From U.S.

A New York City congestion-pricing program can move forward following years of delay after the state’s transit agency got the go-ahead to proceed from the U.S. Transportation Department Tuesday.

The Biden administration said the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority could undertake a federally required environmental assessment and solicit public reaction to the program, a key step toward implementing a pricing system that would charge motorists going into midtown Manhattan from 60th Street to Battery Park.

The planned once-daily toll could generate $15 billion over four years for the MTA for needed improvements in the city’s subways, buses and regional rails and would become the nation’s first cordon congestion pricing toll zone of this scale, according to a statement from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.

The fees, which would help reduce the city’s traffic bottlenecks and improve air quality, could also help fund the MTA’s five-year $51.5 billion capital plan.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo praised the decision Tuesday and said congestion pricing would “play a critical role as New York and the nation begin to recover from the pandemic.”

“Congestion pricing is an internationally proven method to reduce traffic congestion, enhance the availability and reliability of public transportation, and improve our air quality,” Cuomo said in a statement Tuesday.

The environmental assessment will look at how charging a toll on vehicles driving into Manhattan would affect traffic volumes and emissions.

But a more streamlined process for reviewing the plan’s environmental impacts will help move the project along faster than if a more formal environmental review was required, providing a victory for state and local officials who have derided the plan’s long delays under the Trump administration. The program’s start could still be several months away.

“The FHWA looks forward to assisting New York so we can arrive at a prompt and informed” environmental review, acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack said in a statement Tuesday.

She called New York’s plan an “important and precedent-setting project.”

MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye said the agency is working with the federal government to develop a preliminary design for the roadway toll system in Manhattan, and the technology to enforce it, he said.

“It’s more important than ever that our region has a strong and robust MTA to help power the economic recovery,” Foye said in a statement.

Businesses and commuters from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will also have a chance to respond to the plan, the highway agency said.

Opponents to the program in New York City’s outer boroughs, as well as suburban areas of Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey, have threatened to sue the state for what they refer to as the equivalent to a tax on commuters in those areas.

“At a time when New York City is trying to recover from the pandemic and is already losing residents and businesses to other lower-taxed states at record pace, the last thing we need is another toll to enter the central business district of Manhattan,” said Republican U.S. Representative Nicole Malliotakis, who represents Staten Island and Brooklyn.

While opponents views should be heard, their concerns pale compared to the need for more effective mass transit to spur regional economic growth, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.

“New York City is the economic engine for the region,” de Blasio said during a press briefing. “This is something that is going to have so much to do with the future of New York City because the future is mass transit.”

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