Two Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation are going after New York’s proposed congestion pricing plan, which would hike the costs for commuters traveling across the Hudson River from New Jersey during rush hour.
The plan was moved by the Federal Highway Administration on March 30, when it said state and New York City officials needed to only conduct an environmental assessment instead of the more cumbersome, drawn-out and bureaucratic environmental impact statement.
It would be the first of its kind in the nation, though the concept has been employed first in Singapore, and across Europe in cities including London, Milan and Stockholm.
But New Jersey Democratic U.S. Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Bill Pascrell said they would be pressing the U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg – whose department oversees the FRA – to stop or at least pause the plan to allow for more public input.
“They want to tax New Jersey, take it out of our commute and put it on our bill” for no benefit to the Garden State, Gottheimer said at a press conference the morning of April 9 at the Fort Lee entrance to the George Washington Bridge, where many of those commuters would enter New York City.
Gottheimer, who represents the 5th District which includes Bergen County, continued that “Soon enough, if they haven’t already, folks will start driving in again to support their families. Others will head in at night and over the weekends to grab dinner, go shopping and spend the day with family. It’s almost as if they’re begging people not to return to work as the pandemic stay-at-home orders are lifted.”
Under the plan, city officials would levy a once-daily toll for vehicles entering the “Central Business District,” which stretches from the south end of Central Park all the way to Battery Park at the south end of Manhattan Island.
The city estimated that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and shift to telecommuting and social distancing practices, several hundred thousands of cars entered that swathe of Manhattan each day.
They estimate the plan would generate $15 billion for the city over four years, which local officials and those at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said will go toward desperately needed upgrades to New York City’s sprawling subway system.
“It’s more important than ever that our region has a strong and robust MTA to help power the economic recovery from this unprecedented crisis, and as traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels we must tackle congestion,” MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Foye said in a March 30 statement.
The plan has much that still needs to be worked out, including the exact pricing structure. It initially gained traction in 2019, but was halted by the pandemic and mass shift to stay-at-home.
Both members of Congress demanded more input from New Jersey commuters on the proposal, but an MTA official in a statement said that the Garden State will be able to weigh in on the proposal.
“It’s been on the table and it’s been debated in this state for longer than I’ve lived in this state. So if New Jersey wasn’t in the loop, they should have jumped in,” Sarah Feinberg, interim president for NYC Transit within the MTA, said in a news conference that same day. “We’ve been debating this for a long time, it passed the state Legislature a long time ago, it’s been sitting with USDOT for four years, three years, and was acted on and we got guidance on the environmental process in the last week, so this is not news to anyone I don’t think.”
Gov. Phil Murphy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in April 2019, announced a tentative “conceptual understanding” in which New Jersey would forgo any revenue from the surcharge. Under that loose agreement, drivers on the three Hudson River crossings – the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels – would be credited for the amount already paid in tolls.
Should drivers have to pay the congestion fee, Pascrell, who represents the 9th District, estimated the new costs would mean another $3,000 of travel expenses for New Jersey commuters across the Hudson River.
“This is an extra tax on our drivers,” Pascrell said in Fort Lee. “Biden promised not to raise taxes on middle-class families. I hope the administration remembers that commitment as they review this scheme.”
Gottheimer said he would be introducing a bill in Congress that would bar states from federal transportation aid if they enact the exact kind of congestion pricing plan being considered in New York.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:23 p.m. EST on April 9, 2021, to include comments from an MTA official and Sarah Feinberg, interim president for NYC Transit.v