With New York’s congestion pricing plan moving closer to reality, New Jersey leaders and officials are stepping up efforts to combat the controversial plan that would charge drivers up to $23 a day to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street.
As NJBIZ reported earlier this month, congestion pricing took a major step forward following the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) decision to allow New York and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to move to the next step of the process.
Late last week, the MTA, the New York State Department of Transportation and New York City Department of Transportation released the Final Environmental Assessment for the Central Business District Tolling Program and a draft “Finding of No Significant Impact,” prepared by the FHWA. That opened a 30-day period for the public to review the plan.
On May 15, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., held a press conference steps away from the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, where he was joined by advocates, business leaders and transportation officials, to announce the Stop NJ Congestion Act—legislation he says will address the congestion pricing tax on New Jersey drivers and small businesses.
“My bill is simple. If congestion pricing is given final approval and New York moves forward with implementing its misguided plan, my bill would impose highway sanctions against the State of New York,” said Menendez. “In addition, my bill would require New York to meaningfully engage with – and receive – consent from – affected states like New Jersey before any congestion pricing is approved. This would guarantee New Jersey a seat at the table for future proposals, something we should have had all along. My bill slams the brakes on this awful congestion pricing plan. I’ll say it again, this congestion pricing plan is a no-win for our state.”
“My bill slams the brakes on this awful congestion pricing plan. I’ll say it again, this congestion pricing plan is a no-win for our state.”
— U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez
The legislation would impose highway sanctions on any state that implements the program described in the final Environmental Assessment for the Central Business District Tolling Program, or any other similar program, causing New York to lose 50% of its National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) and Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBG) funding if it chooses to move forward with the proposal.
Officials believe that would directly disincentivize New York from implementing its congestion pricing system.
It would also amend the underlying Value Pricing Pilot Program, which New York is using to implement its congestion pricing proposal, to require that a project sponsor meaningfully engage with, and receive consent from, any state that would be reasonably impacted by a proposal under the program. Officials believe that this would guarantee New Jersey a seat at the table on – and veto power over – any future congestion pricing proposal.
Jim Kirkos, president and CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, who was at the press conference, said that there are innumerable types of businesses that will suffer from congestion pricing.
“New York and New Jersey are connected in important ways and those working relationships will be threatened,” said Kirkos. “The MTA expects everyone to ignore the fact that New Jersey was completely left out of any and all discussions regarding this program. We are going to fight however we can – and reducing our coupling from New York to reduce the negative impacts of congestion pricing will be a likely consequence.”
Gov. Phil Murphy did not appear at the press conference but did release a statement supporting Menendez’s legislation.
“Since day one, I’ve stood against the disproportionate negative 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, outsized 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,” said Murphy.
“As a conceptual matter, I support congestion pricing, but it must be structured in a way that is fair to all sides,” he continued. “Until New York’s congestion pricing plan is fixed, I will keep working closely with partners from both states and both sides of the aisle to halt implementation of this misguided tolling plan. Our administration is closely assessing all legal options.”
Menendez is also sending a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressing serious concern about the impacts of congestion pricing on New Jersey communities, urging him to abandon the current EA and FONSI and instead pursue a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that includes input from and equity for all stakeholders, including those in New Jersey.
Additionally, Choose New Jersey, the state’s not-for-profit economic development that is allied with the governor, has begun a new ad campaign to push back against congestion pricing while promoting the Garden State.
The campaign includes billboards near Hudson River crossings that read:
“PAY A CONGESTION TAX TO SIT IN NYC TRAFFIC? GET OUTTA HERE. Move your business to New Jersey.”
“LESS CONGESTION. NO CONGESTION TAX. Move your business to New Jersey.”
These announcements build on the efforts by the New Jersey congressional delegation, spearheaded by long-time critic of congestion pricing, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th District, who has sponsored the bipartisan Anti-Congestion Tax Act. He applauded the billboard campaign as well as Menendez’s legislation to combat congestion pricing.
“With New York moving full steam ahead with their anti-environment, anti-commuter Congestion Tax, this could be an opportunity to get jobs from New York City to our state. To compete with the rest of the country, working with our state legislators, I’ve proposed a new ‘Stay in Jersey’ tax incentive for businesses that move jobs to Jersey, including opening satellite offices, and tax credits for businesses that buy Jersey-made products,” said Gottheimer. “I couldn’t be more excited about the governor’s new effort, and we’re in lockstep to get more families and new businesses to Jersey.”
“I’ve been fighting the MTA’s Congestion Tax plan since 2019, and I look forward to working with Sen. Menendez on federal legislation to stop New York from whacking Jersey drivers,” Gottheimer added.
During his News 12 New Jersey “Ask Governor Murphy” call-in show Monday, the governor was asked at the top of the show by host Eric Landskroner about this issue and these latest efforts.
“Let’s start with something before we take our first call – congestion pricing,” said Landskroner. “People are furious over this.”
Murphy said he was disappointed with the FHWA decision and said he has expressed that disappointment to the highest levels of the Biden Administration, echoing Menendez’s sentiments about doing a more fulsome EIS process.
“This is ridiculous at two levels. First of all, most importantly, the pocketbook of the commuter,” said Murphy. “It’s a ridiculous toll to have to pay.”
The governor said that unlike New Jersey, where any toll increase goes to infrastructure investment, this congestion toll would go to bail out the “broken MTA in New York State.”
“And the second issue is, and I give Josh Gottheimer and Sen. Bob Menendez a lot of credit for shining a light on the real environmental price that we’re going to pay, especially in places like Bergen County,” Murphy continued.
He also applauded Choose New Jersey’s billboard campaign.
“They saw this and said, ‘wait a minute, let’s seize on the opportunity,’” said Murphy. “They spend an enormous amount of energy convincing businesses and families to move into New Jersey with a fair amount of success. If the feds and New York are going us this opportunity on a golden platter, we’re going to take advantage of it.”
Landskroner asked how successful he thought these efforts had the potential to be, as well as what tools Murphy had left in the toolkit.
“Absolutely everything is on the table,” said Murphy. “And I don’t say this with a glee because we enjoy, for the most part, a very good relationship with New York and, obviously, a very good relationship with the Biden Administration. But my job is to protect Jersey and to protect Jersey commuters and the health of all New Jerseyans.”
“We will, in almost all likelihood, take legal action,” Murphy continued. “I’m hopeful that that can lead to something. We have the Port Authority mechanism still, which is going to have some relevance here. We will do what it takes to protect our commuters.”
Despite all of the action and efforts to combat things from the Jersey side of the Hudson, New York officials are pressing ahead with the controversial plan.
“This is a significant milestone, bringing us closer to a future where New Yorkers have cleaner air, better public transit and less traffic clogging our streets,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said May 12. “This program is critical to New York City’s long-term success, ensuring our commuters and businesses are able to grow and thrive.”