Congestion pricing: cleaner air and safer streets for New Jersey

Congestion pricing can not only reduce congestion, but also mitigate pollution and decrease crashes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York’s congestion pricing plan has finally received critical approval from the Federal Highway Administration. Late is better than never, and as New Jerseyans, we strongly support the congestion pricing plan.

New Jersey faces two urgent challenges: responding to climate change and ending the crisis in traffic violence that reached 700 deaths in NJ last year. Results from other cities that have implemented congestion pricing show that it can not only reduce congestion, but also mitigate pollution and decrease crashes.

The effects of traffic congestion and air pollution in New York City are felt far beyond its borders. Both in-state and out-of-state drivers have long subjected northern New Jersey to a hidden but onerous tax: treating the region as a mere cut-through, rushing through local streets with no regard for the safety of residents, honking futilely when they can’t, and leaving behind toxic clouds of pollution.

The truth is that the costs of congestion and pollution are already being borne by all of us in the form of learning loss and lost productivity, increased health care costs, and overall decreased quality of life. By reducing the number of cars on the road, commutes will be sped up and streets will be safer for walking, cycling, and increasingly diverse forms of micromobility. In fact, crashes dropped by 40% in London after congestion pricing was implemented.

After 70 years, the ever-wider urban highway experiment has proven a giant failure. We’ve relied on squeezing more and more car infrastructure into tight spaces without any regard for the burdens on urban and environmental justice communities.  Despite hundreds of billions spent and decades of sacrifice by northern New Jersey’s urban communities from Elizabeth to Newark to Jersey City — vast acres of city land confiscated and paying no property taxes, polluted air and noise, and communities divided by highways leading to economic decline — only 8% of New Jersey commuters drive to New York City while a supermajority of 92% use mass transit — trains, buses, the PATH, and ferries. Mass transit is already so much more effective that just a 10% increase in transit frequency could move more people than all current commuter auto traffic through the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. And it is land efficient too: the Lincoln Tunnel’s eXclusive Bus Lane (XBL), a single dedicated lane for buses, carries 10 times the number of commuters as the other three car lanes combined. Imagine what we could do with all that space instead.

The congestion pricing plan is by no means perfect. NJ Transit plays a similar role to Metro North and LIRR, yet is not receiving a share of congestion funding. The Port Authority will need a free hand to raise their proportion of the total toll charge to maintain subsidies for PATH service. And critically, we must ensure all buses are exempt from charges. But the positives of congestion pricing vastly outweigh the negatives.

With the challenge of climate change and with congestion pricing nudging people back onto mass transit, a generational opportunity to invest in transit lies before us. New Yorkers are asking for clean air, safe streets, and investments in transit. We ask Gov. Phil Murphy and our state and local elected officials for the same.

Give NJ Transit a permanent funding source before the looming fiscal cliff, which is unrelated to congestion pricing. Even as Gov. Murphy complains of environmental burdens with congestion pricing, his Turnpike Authority hoards $30 billion dollars for highway widening projects across the state. Let’s cancel the ineffective $10.7 billion widening of the I-78 Turnpike Extension and invest in higher-capacity mass transportation. Pause and reexamine the additional $20 billion planned for other highway expansions throughout the state in favor of more efficient investments in mass transit alternatives: finally extending light rail to Bergen County, Newark, Paterson, and Glassboro; 24/7 two-way dedicated bus lanes for the Lincoln Tunnel and dedicated bus lanes throughout the state; extending the PATH train directly to Newark Airport terminals; and reliable, on-time, frequent service across our trains, buses, and light rail.

New Jerseyans, too, deserve clean air and safe streets.

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