Manhattan drivers soon may face extra tolls

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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to charge drivers extra tolls in congested parts of Manhattan has won approval from the City Council, taking it a step closer to becoming reality, several news agencies reported.

The congestion pricing concept still faces its most substantial hurdle in the state capital, where legislators are expected to take the matter up later this week. The plan must be approved by Monday, April 7, or the city stands to lose $354 million in funding promised by the Department of Transportation’s Urban Partnership Program.

“I am increasingly confident that state leaders will do what’s right for our city,” Bloomberg said at a press conference following the council’s 30-20 vote late Monday, March 31. “Everybody in the city believes today or will come to believe that this is the right thing for New York City.”

Congestion pricing is intended to cut traffic and pollution by forcing more commuters onto mass transit; the money collected through the tolls would go toward mass-transit improvements. The Bloomberg administration has said it would like to have it up and running in a year.

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. The plan would raise an estimated $491 million a year, which would be used to finance public transportation projects.

Bloomberg has touted the toll plan to reduce gridlock and pollution, but federal support was jeopardized last year by weeks of haggling among New York state leaders, who finally struck a compromise agreement.

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 February 2007 USAToday op-ed article that said “congestion pricing, touted as a cure for gridlock, is unfair, ineffective and ignores the transportation needs of Americans.”

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