New York lawmakers reach accord on Bloomberg’s congestion fee plan

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New York state lawmakers reached agreement Thursday, July 19, to move forward with a plan to charge fees to motorists entering midtown Manhattan, maintaining New York City’s eligibility for $500 million in U.S. transit aid, Bloomberg News reported.

The agreement will set up a 17-member commission made up of representatives from the city and the state to review Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “congestion pricing” plan to charge $21 for trucks and $8 for cars entering Manhattan south of 86th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays to relieve traffic and pollution, according to the news agency; the commission would recommend ways to reduce traffic, which would need legislative approval.

“This agreement makes clear that delay was unacceptable and the need to protect our environment and fight congestion simply could not wait,” Bloomberg told his news agency. “We will begin immediately to prepare for the installation of needed equipment to make our traffic plan a reality.”

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno told Bloomberg News that federal transportation officials advised him that the creation of the commission would allow the city to maintain eligibility of the federal funds. U.S. transportation officials are expected to make a final decision on which cities receive federal aid by Aug. 8, Gov. Eliot Spitzer told the news agency.

The State Assembly had failed to meet a deadline by midnight, Monday, July 16, to apply for federal funding for Bloomberg’s plan, which he first unveiled in April this year. A number of state senators were opposed to the idea of congestion fees and had used delaying tactics to avoid meeting the deadline. Bloomberg had said in a statement on Tuesday, July 17, that he was disappointed that the State Senate had failed to reach agreement despite three months of consultations.

The American Trucking Associations, which argues that congestion pricing does little to relieve congestion and is merely a revenue raiser, has campaigned against congestion pricing, publishing op-ed articles and appearing in televised debates. Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer, summed up the organization’s opposition to congestion pricing in a Feb. 28 USAToday op-ed article that said “congestion pricing, touted as a cure for gridlock, is unfair, ineffective and ignores the transportation needs of Americans.”