New York City Congestion Pricing project moves forward with FHWA greenlight

March 31, 2021
FHWA determined the appropriate next step for the proposed congestion pricing plan would be to undergo an environmental assessment.

A proposal to manage Midtown traffic by charging congestion tolls will go through an environmental assessment per guidance from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

FHWA sent a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) explaining the appropriate next step for the project would be the environmental assessment.

FHWA explained New York officials requested feedback on the level of review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is a required assessment for the project to enter FHWA’s Value Pricing Pilot Program – the program that provides a pathway to implement congestion pricing.

“The FHWA looks forward to assisting New York so we can arrive at a prompt and informed NEPA determination on this important and precedent-setting project,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “This approach will ensure that the public participates as local and state leaders explore new possibilities for reducing congestion, improving air quality and investing in transit to increase ridership.”

Acting Administrator Pollack said the environmental assessment would analyze traffic volumes and air quality impacts of the proposed tolling program and FHWA noted the EA process would be designed to ensure involvement of stakeholders from throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The project would create the nation’s first cordon congestion pricing toll zone and would cover an area from 60th Street in Midtown to Battery Park. When MTA first proposed the Central Business District Tolling Program, it explained the area was the largest employment center in the region. However, residents and workers were losing 133 hours on average annually to congestion. Implementing a variable toll for vehicle traffic in the zone would create an estimated $15 billion for MTA’s current five-year capital program. Emergency vehicles and qualifying ADA transport vehicles would be exempt from the toll.

The net revenues of the program would be distributed with 80 percent going to New York City Transit for subway and bus improvements and the remaining 20 percent going to Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.

MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye said the authority was pleased to see the application for the pricing plan move forward and noted MTA’s readiness to see the plan implemented.

“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. Mass transit is also the great equalizer, and Central Business District Tolling will ensure that we have the funding needed to move forward with our historic $51.5 billion Capital Program to modernize the system so that it works better for all of us. We thank the president and [U.S. Transportation] Secretary Pete Buttigieg for their leadership and support,” said Foye. “With this guidance on an environmental assessment now in hand, the MTA is ready to hit the ground running to implement the Central Business District Tolling Program. We are already working on preliminary design for the roadway toll system and infrastructure, and we look forward to working with our colleagues at the Federal Highway Administration to conduct the review and broad public outreach so that we can move forward with the remainder of the program as soon as possible.”

The Riders Alliance also supported the FHWA’s move and urged quick completion of the needed environmental assessment.

"Riders welcome the Biden Administration's prompt decision to order an environmental assessment of congestion pricing. This accelerated public review will expedite essential new revenue to make New York's subway system reliable and accessible,” said Riders Alliance Executive Director Betsy Plum. “[New York] Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo must now complete the assessment as quickly as possible so the MTA can start congestion pricing with no new special interest exemptions in 2022."

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.