Congestion pricing is at the traffic-alleviating heart of a $51.5 billion funding strategy developed by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to raise funds for upgrades and repairs that will help resuscitate the agency’s flailing, failing New York City Subway system.
But the plan, which would provide the MTA with $15 billion in bond sales for much-needed funding for signal improvements and enhanced station accessibility, has appeared to have hit a bureaucratic snag.
With the congestion pricing scheme slated to kick off in 2021 (although that date now seems a stretch), New York would be the first city in the United States to implement congestion pricing as a means of raising funds for public transportation modernization efforts. Although many particulars are still being ironed out by the state, toll-based congestion pricing would apply to vehicles entering Manhattan from points south of 60th Street during peak traffic hours. An additional fee would also be added for for-hire vehicle rides, which should ideally reduce the number of Uber and Lyfts on the road. As previously reported, Los Angeles County is also mulling a similar congestion pricing plan that would reduce traffic while underwriting mass transit projects.
As announced last week in a press conference by Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, New York’s congestion pricing scheme is apparently being “held hostage” by the Trump administration, which must grant the plan approval—via the Federal Highway Administration—before the environmental reviews can begin. While not all of the roadways that would be impacted by the congestion plan are federally funded, many are, thus the need for a federally-mandated environmental review process. For example, as Streetsblog NYC points out, Canal Street is technically part of Interstate 78.
To date, the federal government has offered the state no guidance with regard to environmental review processes, essentially putting the brakes on any forward movement for the time being.
NYC needs congestion pricing for so many reasons, including critical funding for our subways and buses. We must keep fighting to ensure congestion pricing is implemented effectively and without delay.https://t.co/ZhqizbJSuV
— NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson (@NYCSpeakerCoJo) February 21, 2020
Cuomo has framed the delay as an act of retaliation for the state’s refusal to hand over data culled from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the Department of Homeland Security that would be used for immigration enforcement.
“Will they hold congestion pricing hostage? Yes,” the New York Post quoted Cuomo as saying at the press conference. “It doesn’t happen without the federal government’s approval and right now, they’re not approving it.”
Cuomo revealed in another press conference held this past Monday that $3 billion in federal grant funding for Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway expansion has also been derailed by President Trump. Encompassing three new stations and two miles of tunnels, the first phase of the East Side’s forever-awaited Second Avenue Subway line opened in January 2017. The $6 billion second phase, which would stretch the line from East 96th street to East 125th Street with three new stations, is anticipated to be operational by 2027-2029. The project is currently in the preliminary design phases.
Trump had previously expressed decidedly non-antagonistic feelings toward the Second Avenue Subway and its progress.
.@NYGovCuomo says in addition to not approving congestion pricing to raise money for City subways, @realDonaldTrump Admin has also blocked funds to extend Second Avenue Subway, which amounts to roughly $3 Billion of @MTA $51 Billion capital plan pic.twitter.com/jBKhhjVOvT
— Zack Fink (@ZackFinkNews) February 24, 2020
The Trump administration has also delayed funding to rehabilitate a rapidly deteriorating Hudson River rail tunnel that took on significant damage during Superstorm Sandy. The tunnel project is part of Amtrak’s Gateway infrastructure initiative geared to improve rail travel along the Northeast Corridor. It was downgraded to “medium-low priority” status by the Federal Transit Administration earlier this month,
“The federal government has been slow, obstinate and I think purposefully difficult whenever they can,” Cuomo told reporters last week in reference to the federal foot-dragging that’s slowing crucial New York infrastructure undertakings. “It’s political extortion … and, I think, you see this across the board, and I’m not holding my breath for them to approve congestion pricing.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed similarly waning confidence that congestion pricing will be implemented at the start of next year. He went as far as to suggest that the funding needed to fix his city’s ailing subways system will only come through if a Democrat takes the White House this November.
“I am hoping that the professional folks and reason will prevail,” de Blasio recently explained on the most recent episode of WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “It doesn’t always happen in Washington, and if that doesn’t happen, then I am hoping for an election result that will change things in November.”