Biden administration moves congestion pricing environmental review process forward

toll booth
Tolling into lower Manhattan makes slow steps toward becoming a reality.
Photo via Getty Images

Advocates for the state’s plan to toll drivers going into Manhattan finally got a break from the Biden administration.

After years since the proposal to charge vehicles entering Manhattan’s central business district was proposed in 2018 and adopted by the state legislature in 2019, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has given the MTA the criteria it will need in a study to approve the plan.

Stonewalling from the Trump administration has stalled the plan which President Joe Biden and his cabinet have committed to moving forward since before taking the oath of office in January, a promise which Governor Andrew Cuomo said they made good on Tuesday morning.

“Congestion pricing is an internationally proven method to reduce traffic congestion, enhance the availability and reliability of public transportation, and improve our air quality, and it will play a critical role as New York and the nation begin to recover from the pandemic and build back stronger and better than before,” Cuomo said. “This advancement is also another step forward in generating the $15 billion the state needs to fund the MTA’s five-year $51.5 billion capital plan, which will transform the accessibility, reliability and convenience of the system for users of all ages and abilities.”

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Pat Foye issued a statement concurring with the governor about the needs that congestion pricing will fulfill, but explaining that the federal guidance on the precise questions the study will need to answer is what has really put congestion pricing on hold.

“With this guidance on an environmental assessment now in hand, the MTA is ready to hit the ground running to implement the Central Business District Tolling Program,” Foye said. “We are already working on preliminary design for the roadway toll system and infrastructure, and we look forward to working with our colleagues at the Federal Highway Administration to conduct the review and broad public outreach so that we can move forward with the remainder of the program as soon as possible.”

Early proposals for congestion pricing put recommended prices of $11 for cars, ut a study from Cornell University in June found that $20 toll for entering Manhattan below 60th Street has been studied by groups who say it could reduce air pollution by 40% in New York City.

“Riders welcome the Biden administration’s prompt decision to order an environmental assessment of congestion pricing. This accelerated public review will expedite essential new revenue to make New York’s subway system reliable and accessible,” Riders Alliance Executive Director Betsy Plum said. “Governor Cuomo must now complete the assessment as quickly as possible so the MTA can start congestion pricing with no new special interest exemptions in 2022.”

But the proposal has been a point of contention for many outer-borough elected officials who say their districts will be negatively impacted by the policy, even though relatively few New Yorkers would bear the brunt of what many have called a regressive tax on drivers. Some have expressed skepticism in the MTA’s ability to be transparent and responsible in the way it will spend the money.