N.J. needs a say in congestion pricing plan, commuters tell MTA

Hearing was one of two allowing N.J. residents to weigh in on midtown Manhattan toll plan

By: - September 24, 2021 2:48 pm

New York officials say the plan is intended to reduce traffic on its congested roads. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The MTA got an earful from New Jersey commuters during a virtual public meeting on New York City’s proposed congestion toll Friday, with residents saying the Garden State needs to benefit from the billions of dollars in expected revenue.

It was the first of two virtual hearings for New Jersey residents to weigh in on the controversial pricing plan, which would subject drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street to a heavy toll — anywhere from $9 to $23 per car for E-ZPass holders.

Some residents applauded the city’s move, which aims to decrease the number of cars on the road by 15%, improve air quality, and raise $15 billion for MTA infrastructure improvements. Others griped that New York plans to hog all the expected revenue and said the plan would attract more commuters to aging and crowded NJ Transit trains and buses.

“In reality New York City and the entire metro area need to do much more than implement congestion pricing to make the region more livable for its residents, but the program is an important step,” said Richard Unilli, a Jersey City resident who urged officials to expedite the plan.

The extra toll would be good for “our commutes, our commerce, and our air quality,” said Zoe Baldwin, another supporter.

Congestion pricing is expected to go into effect 16 months from now, and could raise $1 billion for mass transit in its first year. Emergency vehicles would be exempt from the toll.

As the plan stands, 80% of revenue would be used for subway improvements, and the remaining 20% for commuter rails. There is no New Jersey representative planned for the Traffic Mobility Review Board, comprised of five yet-to-be-chosen MTA appointees and one mayoral appointment.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-05) said he vehemently opposes any New York congestion pricing that would hurt New Jersey commuters.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) was the first speaker at the hearing, and he slammed the transportation agency for “whacking” New Jersey commuters with another toll.

“Every nickel of this new congestion tax will go solely to the MTA, and not a cent will be shared with the PATH or NJ Transit to help New Jersey,” he said.

The Democrat introduced legislation in August that would prohibit funding for MTA projects until New Jersey drivers are exempt from the toll. He also asked New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to reconsider her support of congestion pricing, which he estimates could cost a New Jersey driver $3,000 annually.

Gov. Phil Murphy previously come out against the toll as long as it doesn’t benefit New Jersey commuters.

Ron Cimoniccini, who commuted daily into the city prior to the pandemic, called the plan “ridiculous,” adding that NJ Transit can’t handle more riders.

“The fact of the matter is, you need $15 billion to fix your stuff, because you haven’t maintained it, and now you want New Jerseyans to pay it in the cost of their commute instead. But you know what we’re going to do instead? We’re going to do what we’ve been doing during the pandemic — stay in New Jersey,” he continued.

Michael Gold echoed the concerns over public transit, calling it a “disaster waiting to happen” if commuters suddenly shift to NJ Transit, already in desperate need of improvements.

“Until there’s major, major upgrades to the system, I don’t see how any congestion pricing — fee, tax, scheme, whatever you want to call it — is going to improve a system that is already failing on its own,” the New Jersey resident said.

Lauren Paterno, who represents the AAA Club of New Jersey, urged the transportation agency to consider an exemption for service vehicles like tow trucks, similar to the rules London imposed in their congestion pricing plan.

Another New Jersey resident, Diana Feinberg, noted Garden State commuters are “the same people the city wants to bring back to revive the office economy, not to mention supporting cultural institutions and businesses.”

The MTA is holding a series of 20 public meetings as a part of its 16-month environmental review, including meetings with state and local agencies.

The second New Jersey hearing will take place Oct. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. Another hearing will be held Oct. 12 from 6 to 8 p.m., intended for minority and low-income participants to speak on environmental justice, but it is open to anyone. People must register ahead of time to speak by calling 646-252-6777 or filling out an online form.

Comments are also being taken online and by phone at 646-252-7440. People who want to submit written comments should mail them to CBD Tolling Program, 2 Broadway, 23rd Floor, New York, NY, 10004.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.