NJ: Feds want a decision in N.J. lawsuit to block $15 congestion pricing fee to enter Lower Manhattan

June 18, 2024
With the June 30 start of New York’s congestion pricing plan on hold, federal officials told a judge that a ruling is still needed in New Jersey’s lawsuit to block the proposal to charge $15 to drive into lower Manhattan.

With the June 30 start of New York’s congestion pricing plan on hold, federal officials told a judge that a ruling is still needed in New Jersey’s lawsuit to block the proposal to charge $15 to drive into lower Manhattan.

Federal Highway Administration officials also have approved the $15 congestion pricing rates to enter lower Manhattan, despite Gov. Hochul decision pausing it earlier this month.

“Notwithstanding New York Governor Kathleen Hochul’s announcement of a “pause” in the implementation of the (congestion pricing ) Project, the lawsuit is not moot,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Todd Kim wrote on Friday. “The lawfulness of the agency’s action remains very much a live legal issue”.

Despite Hochul’s June 5 announcement that she paused the planned June 30 start of the congestion pricing plan to charge $15 for passenger vehicles entering the central business district south of 60th Street, the Federal Highway Administration gave a final approval on Friday to toll rates.

The Federal Highway Administration issued its standard environmental review approval of New York’s congestion pricing program on June 14, a Federal Highway Administration spokesperson told NJ Advance Media on background. “The re-evaluation confirms the finding of no significant impact,” the person said.

Congestion pricing, which was approved by New York’s legislature in 2019, is designed to reduce traffic, crashes, air pollution and raise $1 billion annually for New York’s subway, bus and commuter rail projects. A projected 80,00 to 110,000 commuters are forecasted to switch from driving to using mass transit, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said. New York would be the first American city to implement such a fee.

New Jersey sued the Federal Highway Administration in July 2023 to overturn its approval of the MTA Environmental Assessment that the federal agency have a “finding of no significant impact” approval in June 2023. New Jersey contends a more comprehensive environmental impact statement study should have been done.

On June 6, Gov. Phil Murphy said Hochul’s pausing congestion pricing would not cause the state to drop its suit. “That’s going forward because we’re not sure what can happen,” Murphy said.

Federal officials are of a similar mind.

In a letter to the court, Todd said the Federal Highway Administration conclusions in the Final Environmental Impact Statement “remain valid” in light of the final tolling schedule adopted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and that “no further environmental review” is warranted.

That supports the rate structure approved by the MTA board on March 27. That rate structure set the $15 peak time E-ZPass and $22.50 non-E-ZPass rates for non-commercial passenger vehicles in addition to trucks rates, toll credits and exemptions.

In April, New Jersey attorneys argued before U.S. District Court Senior Judge Leo M. Gordon that federal and New York agencies needed to “start from scratch” and be ordered to conduct an environmental impact statement study that would look more comprehensively at additional traffic that would detour from lower Manhattan and health effects from air pollution in Bergen and Hudson counties.

Meanwhile, congestion pricing supporters, including New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, said they are considering legal action to start it. Lander worked with advocates to assemble a coalition of legal experts and impacted groups who intend to challenge the last-minute reversal by Hochul, the Staten Island Advance reported.

Because of the congestion pricing pause, the lack of revenue blows a $15 billion hole in the MTA’s 2020-2024 Capital Program that the fee would have financed. A decision on a lawsuit could come after the MTA board votes on Hochul’s proposal on June 26.

Meanwhile, federal officials are ready to take the next and final step.

“USDOT remains committed to working with New York project sponsors on the next step, the signature of a VPPP (Value Pricing Pilot Program) agreement by project sponsors and FHWA,” the Federal Highway Administration spokesperson said.

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Larry Higgs may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on X @CommutingLarry

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