Environmental Assessment for New York MTA's proposed Congestion Pricing Program released

Aug. 11, 2022
The EA examined several scenarios and found proposed congestion pricing will reduce congestion, boost transit ridership, improve air quality and improve bus service.

The long-awaited Environmental Assessment of the proposed Central Business District Tolling Program (CBDTP), also known as congestion pricing, for Manhattan was released by the Federal Highway Administration, New York State Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and New York City Department of Transportation.

In short, the document lays out the case for how congestion pricing would meet the goal of New York State’s MTA Reform and Traffic Mobility Act to reduce traffic congestion in the CBD and raise funds that would be invested in transit. The proposed CBDTP would charge noncommercial passenger vehicles once per day with exemptions for qualifying vehicles transporting a person with disabilities and qualifying authorized emergency vehicles.

The Environmental Assessment examined two alternatives: the No Action Alternative and the CBD Tolling Alternative, with various scenarios. The CBD Tolling Alternative was found to meet the four main criteria:

  • Reduce daily vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) within the Manhattan CBD by at least five percent.
  • Reduce the number of vehicles entering the Manhattan CBD daily by at least 10 percent.
  • Create a funding source for capital improvements and generate sufficient annual net revenues to fund $15 billion for capital projects for the MTA Capital Program.
  • Establish a tolling program consistent with the purposes underlying the New York State legislation entitled the MTA Reform and Traffic Mobility Act.

The assessment found that 85 percent of existing work trips to the CBD are made by transit, five percent by car from New York City, three percent by car from New York suburban counties, three percent by car from New Jersey, two-tenths of a percent by car from Connecticut and four percent by other modes, including taxis, for-hire vehicles, bicycling and walking.

The Environmental Assessment looked at 20 areas to evaluate potential adverse effects of implementing the CBDTP and found four – highways and intersections; transit; pedestrians and bicycles; environmental justice – would require mitigation efforts.

For example, low-income drivers who do not have alternative means of transport and feel they must drive may be eligible for a tax credit and could see the E-Z Pass deposit fee waived. The project sponsors note their commitment to establishing an Environmental Justice Community Group that would meet on a bi-annual basis to share updated data and analysis and listen to potential concerns.

"The tremendous detail included in this assessment makes clear the widespread benefits that would result from central business district tolling,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “Bottom line: congestion pricing is good for the environment, good for public transit and good for New York and the region. We look forward to receiving public feedback in the weeks ahead.”

Implementation of tolls would achieve the purpose and need of the project – to reduce traffic congestion in the Manhattan CBD in a manner that will generate revenue for future transportation improvements.

The assessment determined implementation of the proposed program would result in a decline in the number of vehicles entering the CBD of between 15.4 percent to 19.9 percent; and improvement in overall air quality; more reliable bus service due to reduced traffic and an increase in transit ridership of between one and two percent.

Reactions to the EA

Regional Plan Association President and CEO Tom Wright said the association applauds the release of the Environmental Assessment.

“To ensure successful implementation of the program, the MTA must limit exemptions and create a variable fee structure that eliminates toll shopping. As the Environmental Assessment makes clear, with the inclusion of these important details, congestion pricing will bring substantial benefits to communities across the entire metropolitan region. We look forward to partnering with the MTA and our civic partners to implement the policy and make this vision a reality,” said Wright.

Riders Alliance Policy and Communications Director Danny Pearlstein said, "Millions of public transit riders sorely need the modern, reliable, accessible subway that congestion pricing will pay for and the traffic reduction that will speed up bus service. Congestion pricing has been examined in exquisite detail and cannot happen soon enough."

Public comment and meetings

The project partners received more than 7,300 comments in early enhanced outreach as the Environmental Assessment was being prepared. They will hold several virtual public hearings through the end of August and will hold a meeting for the Environmental Justice Stakeholder Working Group, on Aug. 19 and a meeting of the Environmental Justice Technical Advisory Group Aug. 22.

State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, “The release of this Environmental Assessment is an important step forward in this transformative initiative to help us reduce congestion in Manhattan’s central business district. I encourage everyone to attend the public hearings and provide feedback and comments, so that we can make improvements and deliver a comprehensive plan.”

If the FHWA approves the project, contractors would have 310 days to design, develop and implement the tolling infrastructure and tolling system technology that would process the tolls.

The full Environmental Assessment, as well as information on the upcoming virtual hearings is available at https://new.mta.info/project/CBDTP.

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.