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NJ Vows To Fight NYC Congestion Pricing Proposal

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Saturday, Aug 13, 2022 - 10:30 PM

By Larry Higgs of Mass Transit Mag

New Jersey’s reaction to New York’s congestion pricing plan to charge tolls to drive south of 60th Street in Manhattan was predictable – the proposed tolls are too high and public officials vowed to fight it.

An environmental assessment on the plan released Wednesday by the MTA came with seven toll scenarios, including one that gives drivers using the George Washington Bridge, and Lincoln and Holland tunnels credit for those tolls toward the peak period congestion pricing fee of $23 for non-commercial passenger vehicles.

A base plan would charge $9 with no credit given for Hudson or East River tolls for non-commercial passenger vehicles.

Congestion pricing could cost New Jersey workers who commute by car at least an extra $5,000 annually, said Ron Simoncini, Executive Director of the Fair Congestion Pricing Alliance.

“New Jersey commuters are sitting ducks for whatever New York wants to do,” he said. “No way New Jerseyans can spend an extra 7% to 12% of their income to get back and forth to New York.”

Many of those affected commuters don’t have an alternative to driving, he said.

“if you could bring them all in on mass transit, it would be another thing. But there is no alternative for most of these people,” Simoncini said. “They’re trapped.”

Congestion pricing, now in its third iteration, accomplishes several goals: to reduce traffic and gridlock, cut air pollution and provide at least $1 billion annually in additional revenue for major MTA bus, subway and commuter rail projects, the study determined.

But that doesn’t help Jersey drivers, Simoncini said. The law that created congestion price sends all revenue to the MTA, despite calls for sharing funding with NJ Transit and PATH to compensate for added riders that could switch from cars to those systems.

“The New Jersey auto commuter bears the cost,” he said. “So New Jersey auto commuters pay for New York commuters to get to work.”

A spokesman for Gov. Phil Murphy , who is out of the country, reiterated a comment he made to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about commuters not receiving credit for GWB tolls toward the congestion pricing toll.

“While the environmental assessment is under review by New Jersey state agencies and comments will be submitted where necessary and appropriate, the Murphy Administration will not support a double tax of New Jerseyans that provides no direct relief for our state’s commuters,” said Bailey Lawrence, a governor’s spokesman.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., called the toll proposals “worse than we expected.”

“In every scenario, Jersey drivers will end up paying thousands of dollars more on top of the tolls they already pay to go over the George Washington Bridge on their way to work in New York,” he said. “In every single scenario, Jersey commuters get hosed.”

The release of the massive Congestion pricing environmental analysis Wednesday starts the clock on a public comment period that ends on Sept. 9 and includes six virtual on line public hearings from Aug. 25 to 31. A schedule and sign up instruction are on the MTA congestion pricing website at https://new.mta.info/project/CBDTP.

“I plan to take part in the public virtual hearings and encourage all Jersey drivers to join and let their voices be heard in response to the Congestion Tax,” Gottheimer said.

Simoncini said he plans to speak at all six hearings.

The National Motorists Association urged the Federal Highway Administration to take the No Action Alternative and not implement congestion pricing, said Steve Carrellas, NMA New Jersey policy director.

“The calculated costs of time and money of congestion to businesses, commuters, and residents are some of the supposed justifications for the program,“ he said.

What drivers prefer are the broader benefits that driving or sharing a vehicle provides over public transit - “that has its own growing problems and contributions to lost time and money,” he said.

The anger wasn’t confined to New Jersey. Officials in Rockland County, New York and other west of the Hudson river communities also blasted the plan for similar reasons - no benefit to their commuters, said a trio of public officials at a press conference in Nanuet Wednesday.

Assemblyman Mike Lawler of Pearl River, Rockland County Executive Ed Day and MTA Board Member Frank Borelli all sounded like honorary New Jerseyans.

“We’re already getting the short-end of the stick with regards to services and funding, so it is patently absurd that the cost of maintaining and improving New York City’s transit system is being placed on Rockland, Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess County residents,” said Lawler, who introduced a bill in the New York legislature to repeal congestion pricing.

Gottheimer echoed a sentiment mentioned by the New York officials, questioning the financial management of the MTA and the $15 billion received in federal COVID aid.

“The MTA should take a hard look in the mirror and improve their failing systems that are costing them millions,” he said.

One solution is to act on the “Stay in Jersey” concept, Simoncini said. Gottheimer proposed it in May to provide tax incentives to attract New York businesses to open satellite offices in New Jersey and to encourage Jersey commuters to work from home as long as they can, to avoid commuting costs.

On Tuesday, three Bergen County state legislators said they plan to introduce bills offering $15 million in tax credits through the state Economic Development Authority to New York business that open facilities in New Jersey.

State Senator Joe Lagana, and Assemblymembers Chris Tully and Lisa Swain, D-Bergen, referred to congestion price at a Fair Lawn press conference Tuesday, announcing the proposed legislation.

“Scaling back our environmental footprint and cutting commuting costs and travel time are objectives we proudly support,” Tully said. “New Jersey residents should not be picking up the tab for New York’s failure to invest in their own infrastructure.”

By incentivizing New York based employers to open remote offices in New Jersey and attracting new business along with them, “our “Stay in Jersey” legislation will significantly reduce traffic congestion and air pollution without financially targeting in-state commuters,” he said.

Supporters of congestion pricing said the plan would have a neutral effect on most Jersey drivers.

The Regional Plan Association said the benefits are an estimated 20% decrease in traffic and “significant time savings” for everyone driving into the Manhattan, said Brian Fritsch, an RPA spokesman.

“Having even tolls for all drivers into Manhattan, including credits for the GWB, RFK, and Henry Hudson (bridges) is the right approach to reduce toll shopping and its related congestion,” he said. “Drivers (traveling) through the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels would see a relatively small change in fees while those that currently use free crossings would see a bigger increase.”

“Less than roughly 3% of N.J. workers commuting to the Manhattan central business district get there by car,” said Liam Blank, Tri-State Transportation Campaign policy manager, citing an analysis by the group.

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