New Jersey files new lawsuit over congestion pricing

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(The Center Square) — New York is facing another lawsuit over its congestion pricing program, with a new legal challenge seeking to block the new tolling system.

The class-action lawsuit, filed by Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich against the U.S. Department of Transportation and various New York agencies, argues that the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s planned congestion pricing will create more pollution and pose a health risk to people in New Jersey.

It asks the court to issue a temporary injunction to block the MTA’s plans, which calls for charging some motorists a fee ranging from $9 to $23 to drive into Manhattan’s central business district. The DOT issued a “letter of legal sufficiency” for the project in May, signaling a review process leading to final federal approval.

Sokolich argues that cars and trucks will be diverted to Northern New Jersey and the outer boroughs just outside the tolling zone, creating public safety and health issues for low-income neighborhoods.

“Because of this initiative, by their own admission, we’re hearing that we run the risk of an additional twenty percent traffic at this bridge and with that comes pollutants, filth, and dirt,” the Democrat said.

Richard Galler, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, said he suffers from asthma and is concerned about increased traffic and pollutants from commuters trying to find a way around the higher tolls.

“We all believe that congestion pricing is going to add to the traffic in Fort Lee and will add to pollution,” Galler said. “My doctor explained to me that when air pollution is increased, it is like adding a cigarette to your day.”

The new legal challenge is backed by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who says “children with asthma and grandparents with other breathing and health problems” will “suffer because of New York’s cash-grabbing” congestion pricing plans.

“Our families will be lining up at the doctors’ offices, while the MTA lines their pockets with our dollars,” Gottheimer said in a statement.

The lawsuit is the latest legal volley in a simmering battle between the two neighboring states over the MTA’s congestion pricing plan.

In July, New Jersey filed a lawsuit against the DOT and Federal Highway Administration alleging that the federal agencies violated the National Environmental Protection Act, which requires a full environmental impact review for major projects, and the Clean Air Act by giving a green light to the congestion pricing plan.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy argues that the federal agencies “unlawfully fast-tracked” the project and says he is “taking a stand” to “combat the unjust taxation.”

New York officials say the new fee will bring in about $1 billion annually that the agency will use as leverage to borrow more money for its $51 billion multi-year capital plan.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul have defended the new pricing plan, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2019. They claim it will help reduce the region’s traffic congestion and blunt the impact of climate change by reducing tailpipe pollution.

But New Jersey officials say the new tolling system is a “cash grab” intended to bail out the MTA, facing record deficits, at the expense of New Jersey motorists.

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