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New Jersey leaders rip federal approval of ‘cash grab’ congestion plan

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(The Center Square) — Members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation are “outraged” over a decision by the Biden administration to green-light a congestion pricing plan that will increase tolls for commuters driving into New York City.

In a joint statement, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-NJ, and other lawmakers said there is “no excuse” for the federal government’s “failure to require New York to meaningfully engage with stakeholders across New Jersey and to not adequately consult the New Jersey congressional delegation and other elected officials.”

“Despite significant outreach from multiple members of the delegation, including letters to the Department of Transportation calling for a comprehensive study of how this Congestion Tax shakedown will impact our state’s environment and hurt New Jersey families and small business owners, the agency chose a misguided and unacceptable path forward,” they wrote.

Under the congestion pricing plan, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority would be authorized to charge some motorists a fee ranging from $9 to $23 to drive into Manhattan’s central business district.

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. The transit agency faces a potential $2.6 billion budget deficit in 2025 and is seeking more state funding to help reduce its projected shortfalls.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a “letter of legal sufficiency” for the project, signaling a review process leading to final federal approval.

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

“Congestion pricing will reduce traffic in our crowded downtown, improve air quality and provide critical resources to the MTA,” Hochul said in a statement. “With the green light from the federal government, we look forward to moving ahead with the implementation of this program.”

But New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has been among the most vocal critics of the proposal, urging federal transportation officials not to approve the project.

The MTA has also announced concessions to ease criticism of the plan, including a 25% discount for low-income commuters, or those making $50,000 annually, on-peak and off-peak tolls if they make at least 10 trips to the zone.

But New Jersey lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Menedez, D-NJ, are demanding that New Jersey drivers entering Manhattan using the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and George Washington Bridge be exempted from the new tolling charges.

“This process has been mired by a lack of transparency and a refusal to properly include all affected stakeholders,” they said. “We will not stop fighting until we defeat this plan and ensure New York is not allowed to balance its budget on the backs of hard-working New Jersey families. That’s a Jersey promise.”

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