New York would get $354M to launch congestion fee plan

user-gravatar Headshot

The federal government announced Tuesday, Aug. 14, that it would pay $354 million to New York City to help it launch Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to reduce traffic by charging tolls for driving into the busiest parts of Manhattan.

Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Tuesday that the New York money is contingent on the state Legislature approving congestion pricing within 90 days after it reconvenes. “I share the mayor’s confidence that the support will be there,” Peters said. “Drivers are paying today in time delays and unreliability.”

New York’s congestion pricing plan would be the first such toll program in the United States; similar programs already exist in London and Singapore. Bloomberg’s plan would charge trucks $21 and cars $8 to enter Manhattan south of 86th Street on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Bloomberg has touted the toll plan to reduce gridlock and pollution, but federal support was jeopardized by weeks of haggling among New York state leaders, who finally struck a compromise agreement. Under that agreement, a commission will be formed to examine the overall concept of reducing traffic. After hearings and reviews, the group is to make a recommendation to the state Legislature by the end of January.

Peters also announced that Miami, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle were selected, along with New York City, to participate in the new federal initiative to fight traffic gridlock. The announcement followed an eight-month nationwide competition to select a handful of communities from among the 26 who applied to join the Department’s Urban Partnership program, aimed to reduce traffic congestion using approaches such as congestion pricing, transit, tolling and teleworking.

Peters said Miami will receive $62.9 million; the Minneapolis area, $133.3 million; San Francisco, $158.7 million; and the Seattle area (King County), $138.7 million. Peters said each of the Urban Partners has developed a total transportation solution. “These communities have committed to fighting congestion now,” she said. “Our commitment was to allocate the federal contribution in a lump sum, not in bits and pieces over several years – an approach meant to get these projects off the drawing board and into action.”

Peters said every Urban Partner proposed some form of congestion pricing, saying that these “direct user” fees have the advantage of both reducing the enormous costs of congestion, and also of raising funds more effectively than the gas tax does to help states and cities build and maintain critical transportation infrastructure.

“Many politicians treat tolls and congestion pricing as taboo, but leaders in these communities understand that commuters want solutions that work,” Peters said. Additionally, improved and expanded bus and ferry service will make it easier for commuters in Urban Partnership communities to leave their cars at home, Peters said. The plans also take advantage of new technologies to keep traffic moving, and flexible work schedules and telecommuting to ease traditional rush hours, she said.

The American Trucking Associations, which argues that congestion pricing does little to relieve congestion and is merely a revenue raiser, has campaigned against such proposals, 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.”

The Urban Partnership Program is part of the Bush administration’s comprehensive initiative launched in May 2006 to confront and address congestion throughout the nation’s transportation system.