The MTA’s congestion pricing plan inched closer to reality on Friday as the Federal Highway Administration tentatively signed off on the agency’s long-delayed environmental assessment of New York City’s quest to implement tolling in parts of Manhattan.
The Biden administration’s ruling that the MTA’s plan to create toll zones south of 60th Street meets the standards for “legal sufficiency” moves the project forward to a final, 30-day public review phase that is expected to conclude in the project being fully approved by the federal government.
In a statement, MTA’s Chief of External Relations John J. McCarthy celebrated the Federal Highway Administration’s green light.
“Congestion pricing is a generational opportunity to make it easier for people to get around in, and get to, the Central Business District, by reducing traffic and funding improvements to the public transit system,” McCarthy said.
“To do it right, environmental equity has been an integral component. We are grateful that the FHWA has acknowledged the Project Sponsors’ efforts to date and has found the document has met the standards for legal sufficiency.”
The toll amount would be potentially as low as $9 during peak times for drivers entering Manhattan’s Central Business District but could be as high as $23.
The plan has carve-outs for the FDR Drive and the West Side Highway, so traffic can pass through Manhattan.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office called Friday’s sign-off a “critical step” to move the plan forward.
“Governor Hochul is committed to implementing congestion pricing to reduce traffic, improve air quality, and support our public transit system,” John Lindsay, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement.
“We’ve worked closely with partners across government and with community members over the last four years to develop a plan that will achieve these goals. The finding of legal sufficiency is a critical step that will allow our Environmental Assessment to be publicly available for anyone to read, and we will continue to work with our partners to move congestion pricing forward,” Lindsay added.
The MTA has agreed to make an undisclosed list of concessions and investments to offset some of the negative impacts of the tolling program.
For instance, MTA’s environmental assessment found that the tolling plan could increase truck traffic in the South Bronx by upwards of 700 extra trucks per day.
The program is expected to generate some $1 billion in revenue annually for MTA, which the transit agency will issue bonds against to raise $15 billion for repairs.
The tolling plan was approved back in 2019 as part of former New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s FastForward plan to overhaul the subway’s broken signals and buy desperately needed new trains.
New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy decried the Biden administration’s decision to move the plan forward, arguing that Garden State residents would be hit in the pocketbook most by the proposed tolls.
“Today’s decision by [the Department of Transportation] to allow New York’s congestion pricing plan to move forward is unfair and ill-advised,” Murphy wrote on Twitter. “I support congestion pricing conceptually, but it must be fair to all sides. Placing an unjustified financial burden on hardworking New Jersey commuters is wrong.”
“Simply put, it is a money grab,” Murphy said of the MTA’s plan.