(The Center Square) — The Biden administration has given the green light to New York’s controversial $15 billion congestion pricing plan, allowing it to move forward despite growing opposition.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a "letter of legal sufficiency" for the project, which would authorize New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority to charge some motorists a fee ranging from $9 to $23 to drive into Manhattan’s central business district. The move signals a review process expected to lead to final federal approval.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams praised the DOT's decision, saying the congestion plan will help reduce the Big Apple's traffic congestion and blunt the impact of climate change by reducing tailpipe pollution.
"This is about more than reducing traffic," Adams said in a statement. "We'll invest in our transit system and clean up the air in the most polluted communities. We won't leave them behind."
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called the DOT's approval of the plan "unfair and ill-advised" and said it would hurt Jersey commuters still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Everyone in the region deserves access to more reliable mass transit, but placing an unjustified financial burden on the backs of hardworking New Jersey commuters is wrong," he said. "Simply put, it is a money grab."
Murphy said his administration is "closely assessing all legal options" and working with congressional lawmakers to "halt implementation of this misguided tolling plan."
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has defended the new policy, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2019, saying it will help reduce the region's traffic congestion and blunt the impact of climate change by reducing tailpipe pollution.
For motorists coming from New Jersey to the Manhattan district, the average round trip cost per vehicle would be $120 with the additional toll, according to a recent MTA report on the proposal.
MTA officials estimate the new fee will bring in about $1 billion annually that the agency will use as leverage to borrow more money for its $51 billion multi-year capital plan.
The MTA faces a potential $2.6 billion budget deficit in 2025 and is seeking more state funding to help reduce its projected shortfalls.
A group of lawmakers from both states has filed a bill that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Transportation from awarding any new capital investment grants to MTA projects in New York unless drivers in New Jersey and New York get an exemption from the congestion tax.
Critics also called on the MTA's leadership to testify before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and provide an accounting for federal funding the agency has received during the pandemic.
Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who opposes the plan, said the proposed tax would shift vehicle traffic from higher-income, more urbanized areas to lower-income, more vulnerable communities like NYC's outer boroughs. He has asked DOT to reconsider the decision.
"The congestion tax will send more trucks into northern New Jersey by the George Washington bridge and into the outer boroughs to all areas just outside of the tolling zone — hurting lower-income families," he said in a statement. "The Bronx alone could face 700 more trucks every day contributing to massive pollution."