New Jersey has continued its assault on congestion pricing’s approval, filing a lawsuit in federal district court against the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration for allegedly violating environmental laws.
Specifically, the complaint expressed frustration that an environmental FONSI (Finding Of No Significant Impact) was granted by the FHWA. The suit alleges that the agency turned a “blind eye” to some obvious knock-on environmental harms before approval, and even conjectures that “this federal agency seems to have worked backwards to achieve a predetermined outcome.”
“We can’t fix a broken MTA on the back of New Jersey commuters,” NJ Governor Phil Murphy told Bloomberg News. “It’s a huge tax on them, and frankly, it challenges our environment because of all the re-routing of traffic that will take place,” he added. The suit pits him against fellow Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul of NY, who is a huge fan of the pricing plan as a way to curb traffic and pollution in Manhattan.
The suit claims Bergen County will experience “increased air pollutants–including increases in known carcinogens–through at least 2045.” New Jersey says it is concerned that “the FHWA determined that the probable impacts on Bergen County and its residents (and those of other areas in northern New Jersey) do not warrant commitment to enforceable mitigation measures, or even further assessment.”
While the tolls collected from congestion pricing are expected to play a role in helping balance the MTA’s budget for the next five years, commuter rail lines in NJ will not get a slice of the pie.
The NJ plaintiffs express ire that the pricing plan will see “fifteen billion dollars for...the 2020 to 2024 MTA capital program...but nothing to New Jersey’s transit agencies, even though more than 400,000 New Jersey residents commute in Manhattan every day and will pay million of dollars to the MTA for the congestion pricing scheme (emphasis in suit).”
The plaintiffs also cite two executive orders by President Joe Biden, which instruct federal agencies such as the FHWA to prioritize minimizing “disparate environmental and public health impacts for certain groups of people based on their race, language, and income.”
The suit then elaborates that New Jersey communities that suffer from “disproportionally high chronic disease” will be adversely affected by the “harms to air quality and noise pollution in those areas” allegedly caused by the pricing plan, again singling out Bergen County as reportedly falling within a high percentile for “air toxins cancer risk.”
New Jersey has asked for “preliminary and permanent injunctions vacating and setting aside [the FWHA’s] FONSI and final [Environmental Assessment], and compelling the Defendants to complete a full and proper [Environmental Impact Statement]” for the congestion pricing plan. In other words, they want to redo the whole thing with what they claim will be a more honest audit on pollution effects.
The MTA’s Chief of External Relations, John J. McCarthy, responded to the filing by proclaiming that “this lawsuit is baseless.” He continued that “the 4,000-page Environmental Assessment performed by MTA, New York State DOT and [the] New York City DOT was supervised at every stage and specifically approved by the Biden Administration. We’re confident the federal approval–and the entire process—will stand up to scrutiny.”
Interestingly, a watchdog for the agency claimed that congestion pricing would reduce pollution across the entire region, including New Jersey.
The city has already begun erecting toll readers for congestion pricing, which could go live by next spring.