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New York City Congestion Pricing Plan Nears Approval

Supporters of New York’s congestion pricing plan were doing a victory lap earlier this month over a decision by federal officials to accept an environmental assessment and not require a more in-depth study.

Traffic in Manhattan
(TNS) — Supporters of New York’s congestion pricing plan were doing a victory lap earlier this month over a decision by federal officials to accept an environmental assessment and not require a more in-depth study, moving the plan to toll traffic driving south of 60th street in Manhattan closer to implementation.

A week later, officials explained what it means, with the MTA on the cusp of receiving a desired “Finding of No Significant Impact” - colloquially known as a “FONSI.”

Once the Federal Highway Administration officially make that finding, “a six-member traffic advisory panel” can begin making the important decision about extending credits towards a congestion fee for tolls paid and who and which groups get exemptions.

What could Jersey drivers pay to enter Manhattan south of 60th street?

It’s going to require some math.

There are seven congestion pricing rates for the panel to decide on, from a base rate of $9 for non-commercial passenger cars during rush hours, with no toll exemptions, to a maximum $23 which contains credits for all tolls, including the George Washington Bridge for the same class of vehicle during rush hours.

One of the purposes of congestion pricing, besides reducing traffic, gridlock and air pollution in New York City is to raise an estimated $1 billion annually for MTA subway, bus and commuter rail projects.

A myriad of different groups asked last summer during public hearings for either discount or flat out exemptions. The more exemptions or credits provided for tolls paid at Hudson River and other crossings means the toll must be higher to compensate for the discount and to add revenue for the MTA, according to the environmental assessment.

Exemptions for specific groups, such as city employees, and others also could elevate the toll rate for the same reason, to deliver a specific revenue stream for MTA capital projects.

So let’s do some math using the base and three proposed rates that provide credits for tolls paid at Hudson River Crossings.

The congestion pricing plans considers peak period during weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for six of the seven toll proposals. The other breaks it into two peak periods: 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The base congestion pricing rate could be $9 during the 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. peak period, with no toll exemptions.

Under that rate, a New Jersey commuter using one of the Hudson River crossing could pay a total of $26 a day to enter the congestion zone south of 60th street, based on a cash bridge or tunnel toll and congestion fee (that would be $25 if E-ZPass is used to pay the bridge tolls.) That base congestion pricing fee rate drops to $7 in the off peak and to $5 overnight.

Two plans would grant a credit for Lincoln and Holland Tunnel and for outer borough tunnel tolls toward the congestion fee.

The “low crossing credit plan” would charge a $14 congestion fee to drivers of non-commercial passenger cars during peak times of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Jersey drivers would pay a cash $17 tunnel toll and fee for a $31 total to enter Manhattan. After a toll credit, the congestion pricing would cost a total of $14 a trip. Off peak congestion tolls would be $11 and overnight $7, without credits or exemptions.

Under the “high crossing credit” plan, the congestion fee would be $19 for drivers of non-commercial passenger cars during peak commuting times of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Drivers using those crossings would pay a total of $36 (based on a cash Port Authority tunnel toll plus congestion fee). However, after subtracting a $17 credit for the toll from the $19 congestion fee, congestion pricing would cost an extra $2 a trip.

The off-peak fee would be $14 and $10 during the overnights without credits or exemptions under that scenario.

A earlier congestion pricing report recommended giving a toll credit to drivers of the two Hudson River tunnels because they enter Manhattan in the congestion pricing zone. Drivers who use the George Washington Bridge and drive south into the congestion zone argued they should also get credit for those tolls.

That would be granted under “scenario F” but it’s part of an “all in” $23 rate that adds credits for George Washington bridge in addition to other NYC outer borough bridge (except the Verrazano Narrows bridge) tolls.

Adding that congestion fee to Port Authority Hudson River crossing tolls works out to $40 for the cash toll and congestion fee. The toll credit shaves the congestion fee to $6, so the net out of pocket cost is $23 ($17 toll plus a $6 congestion fee).

Peak period under that plan is 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Off peak is $17, overnight is a $12 congestion fee, without discounts.

This analysis just considered net congestion pricing fees with the proposed toll credits. Congestion pricing opponents have complained those fees added to others increase commuting costs.

The final congestion rates would be determined by a six-member traffic mobility board, which would make a recommendation to the MTA’s Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which would run the congestion. All six members were named by the TBTA in 2022 and none represent New Jersey.

The FHWA said the board members should represent the region and have experience in public finance, transportation, mass transit, or management.

After rates are set and a final FHWA review, the agency and city must sign agreements for participation in the federal Value Pricing Pilot Program.

New York officials have said 2024 is the earliest congestion pricing could be implemented. That schedule also doesn’t include delays that could result from challenges from New Jersey officials.

Gov. Phil Murphy said while he supports the goals of congestion pricing, like less traffic, pollution and crashes, but he’s cited the “disproportional negative effects” of New York’s plan.

They include “a greater financial burden on New Jersey commuters, double tolling, toll shopping, a lack of revenue for NJ Transit, outsized environmental burdens on certain North Jersey communities, and financial impacts on the Port Authority’s capital budget,” Murphy said in a May 5 statement.

“Our Administration is closely assessing all legal options,” he said.

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