New Jersey takes legal action to stop congestion pricing before it begins

New Jersey is suing over the MTA’s congestion pricing plan.

Governor Phil Murphy made the announcement Friday morning in Fort Lee alongside Senator Bob Menendez and Rep. Josh Gottheimer.

The governor called the plan an “unreasonable and unprecedented” policy “favoring New York at the expense of its neighbors.”

The state takes aim at the Federal Highway Administration’s environmental impact study of the plan, which the lawsuit said “was not the product of a reasoned and comprehensive fact-based environmental review.”

“We are particularly disappointed by the lack of a thorough environmental impact review and the lack of mitigation measures for impacted communities, like Fort Lee,” Murphy said during Friday’s news conference. “Unfortunately, New York’s proposal will prompt toll shopping, where more drivers seek circuitous routes to avoid paying the highest tolls, resulting in more traffic and more pollution in certain areas.”

New York City is hoping congestion pricing will reduce traffic and raise billions of dollars for mass transit. Sensors are already being installed to monitor cars entering Manhattan south of 60th Street.

Drivers would be charged $23 during rush hour and $17 off-peak.

“A goal of congestion pricing, as articulated in the New York legislation authorizing it-the MTA Reform and Traffic Mobility Act-is to, ‘at minimum, ensure annual revenues and fees collected’ of ‘fifteen billion dollars for . . . the 2020 to 2024 MTA capital program,'” the lawsuit said.

“In connection with this extraordinary and unprecedented revenue stream, the MTA has agreed to allocate 10% to Long Island Rail Road and 10% to Metro-North Railroad – but nothing to New Jersey’s transit agencies, even though more than 400,000 New Jersey residents commute into Manhattan every day and will pay millions of dollars to the MTA under this congestion pricing scheme.”

The MTA issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit, through External Relations Chief John J. McCarthy:

“This lawsuit is baseless. The 4,000-page Environmental Assessment performed by MTA, New York State DOT and New York City DOT was supervised at every stage and specifically approved by the Biden Administration. Contrary to any claim that there was insufficient study, the EA actually covered every conceivable potential traffic, air quality, social and economic effect, and also reviewed and responded to more than 80,000 comments and submissions. As for the adequacy of the outreach process and the contention that there wasn’t enough opportunity for New Jersey residents and officials to be heard – not only were there six public hearings lasting a total of 38 hours, there were 19 outreach sessions, in which dozens of officials from New Jersey agencies participated. We’re confident the federal approval – and the entire process — will stand up to scrutiny.”

Groups that support the congestion pricing plan wasted no time slamming the lawsuit as well.

“Their lawsuit will hurt the New Jersey voters who will undeniably benefit from the positive effects of what congestion pricing will bring: less traffic, improved air quality and better transit in New York City and the entire region,” said Lisa Daglian, Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, in a statement.

“Every day we delay implementing this policy is another day we are not funding transit, reducing dangerous emissions in our air, and managing traffic congestion across New York City and the metropolitan region,” said a statement from the advocacy group Congestion Pricing Now.

Although the lawsuit is against the Biden Administration’s FHWA, it is effectively a shot across the Hudson River at New York State and neighboring Governor Kathy Hochul.

Asked to comment on the lawsuit Friday, Hochul responded this way:

Well, congestion pricing is going to happen. It has gone through a long process of review at the federal level. The environmentals have already been studied. That’s why it was delayed another year last year. The state of New York is committed. The reasons are simple. We have to make sure that we have the resources, the funding mechanism, to ensure that we can continue the capital investments that have not been there in the past. And this is not just for New York commuters or people coming in from Connecticut. New Jersey residents, 80 percent of the people who work in New York City who are New Jersey residents, 80 percent take this public transportation. So, this is making sure that it’s there long term, that it’s sustainable. It’s making sure we’re making the investments to make sure that it endures and is not compromised going forward. So, it’s for everyone, but also, it’s going to mean cleaner air, less congestion.

New Jersey last month hired lawyers Randy Mastro and Craig Carpenito, a former U.S. attorney, to “explore all of our legal options, and we anticipate announcing a course of action soon.”

Governor Murphy is following through on his threat after the FHWA determined the environmental impact of the plan was not enough to put the brakes on its implementation, now expected by next April.

Earlier Friday morning, crews were spotted installing the tolling mechanisms on 60th Street in Manhattan.

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