Another salvo has been fired as the war over congestion pricing (formally known as the Central Business District Tolling Program) continues to heat up, less than a year before it is slated to go into effect next spring. This leg of the fight pits NYC congressional leaders against New Jersey.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, two Democratic congressmen collectively representing all of Manhattan below Harlem euphorically thanked his department for giving congestion pricing an environmental green light. Jerrold Nadler and Dan Goldman said that they “are grateful that on May 5, 2023, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved the release of the Final EA and draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which determined that congestion pricing ‘will have no significant impact on the human or natural environment.’” They also expressed joy that local authorities such as the MTA and the NY DOT released their final positive environmental assessment for the congestion plan on May 12th.
However, not all stakeholders are jumping for joy about congestion pricing. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell and Josh Gottheimer–all from New Jersey–recently introduced a bill called the Stop Congestion Pricing Act, which is also supported by at least eight other New Jersey congressmembers of both major parties.
In a summary of the bill on Senator Menendez’s website, he notes that “in addition to $17 tolls to cross into New York through the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, a $23-a-day congestion fee would impose a $5,000-a-year burden on New Jerseyites who work or do business in Manhattan, as well as an added strain to New Jersey’s transit systems and infrastructure.” He states: “At a time when the budgets of working-class families and small businesses are already stretched thin, New York is trying to balance their budget by squeezing every dollar from out-of-state-residents.”
To counter the NYC congressional delegation, Senator Mendendez and Senator Cory Booker sent their own letter to Secretary Buttigieg, striking quite a different tone. They want the FONSI–the federal “finding of no significant impact” environmental approval–thrown out entirely and redone in a manner that takes into account New Jersey’s economic concerns.
To put it bluntly, an interstate legislative war remains at full boil over the congestion pricing plan.
Nadler and Goldman dedicated a good chunk of their letter to their concerns regarding NJ’s legislation. They begun by claiming that “the proposed legislation is not only counterproductive, but it poses a real threat to the considerable progress we have achieved in enhancing access to public transit for millions of riders throughout the entire region. Threatening to withhold federal funding from [NY] state is a dangerous and misguided proposal.”
“Today, only a mere 1.6 percent of commuters from New Jersey drive into Manhattan’s congestion pricing zone, with the majority of them belonging to more affluent demographics compared to transit commuters,” the Nadler/Goldman letter maintains. Therefore, they insist the majority of New Jersey commuters–who take public transit–”stand to gain immensely from the expansion and improvement of services that congestion pricing can provide.”
In a final jab at the New Jersey delegation, they say that “we cannot allow the interests of a small group of affluent car owners to impede the progress we have made toward a sustainable and equitable transportation future that will ultimately benefit the entire region.”
Perhaps inconveniently to Nadler and Goldman, some of their own constituents are not sold on the merits of the plan, and may find themselves supporting the contingent against congestion pricing on the other side of the Hudson River. While many New Yorkers are estimated to support the congestion pricing plan, there has been some clamorous protest from a number of locals, as evidenced by a Community Board 8 meeting on May 30th. Residents against congestion pricing called it everything from “bullsh*t” to “hooey”, and one even accused the two congressmen of taking money from the MTA to do their bidding. Hannah Weinerman, an aide for Nadler, only butted in at the end to say “she was absolutely taking notes.” She appeared overwhelmed by the torrent of criticism.
With no compromise forthcoming from either side at this point, it appears the congestion pricing war will continue.