Congestion pricing proposal in NYC moves forward with environmental assessment

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The oft-discussed prospect of installing a once-daily toll system in one of New York City’s most heavily trafficked areas has moved one step closer to reality, though a number of granular details still need to be fleshed out.

In late March, President Joe Biden’s administration announced it is giving New York state and municipal authorities the green light to proceed in the information gathering process for a congestion pricing system – which, if implemented, would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

For years, a number of New York state and city officials – including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio – have been calling for congestion pricing. The proposal has been touted as a revenue source and a means to improving the environment.

“Congestion pricing is an internationally proven method to reduce traffic congestion, enhance the availability and the reliability of public transportation and improve our air quality,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It will play a critical role as New York and the nation begin to recover from the pandemic and build back stronger and better than before.”

While the toll would impact motorists, de Blasio in a recent news briefing said the projected $15 billion in revenues over a four-year period would benefit the city’s mass transit infrastructure.

“We need congestion pricing,” de Blasio said. “We need to make sure we have the resources to bring back the subways and buses strong. We need, obviously, to continue to address congestion itself. And this is really good news.”

The plans in motion would give New York City officials the ability to charge a once-daily variable toll for vehicles entering or remaining within Manhattan’s Central Business District – an area stretching from 60th Street in Midtown to Battery Park.

To date, officials have not revealed what the daily toll fee schedule would be for motorists. Also uncertain is when the congestion pricing plan would actually go into effect, though federal, state and local officials have indicated it could begin this year.

In announcing the Biden administration’s approval, in concept, for a congestion pricing system in New York City, a so-called environmental assessment period is being activated, said Stephanie Pollack, acting administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.

“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,” Pollack said.

While a number of state and local officials have been calling for federal approval for a model such as congestion pricing, it has drawn criticism.

U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-New York, said she is concerned with the pace of the would-be program’s rollout – particularly since it has not previously been implemented in this country.

“It is irresponsible for the Federal Highway Administration to allow an environmental review, as opposed to a more detailed environment impact statement for this program,” Malliotakis said in a statement.

Pointing to COVID-19 related outmigration data in the past year, Malliotakis said, “The last thing we need is another toll to enter the Central Business District of Manhattan.”

Malliotakis, whose Congressional district includes Staten Island and the southern portion of Brooklyn, said her constituents are “extremely sensitive to tolling” and said the program could yield “unintended consequences.”

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