NJ Dem Josh Gottheimer, NY Republican Mike Lawler team up to fight MTA congestion toll in Congress

January 19, 2023

New York Post

By David Meyer

A new bill in Congress would punish the MTA — by denying it needed federal funds — if it goes ahead with proposed tolls for car trips in Manhattan below 60th Street, two bipartisan bill sponsors say.

“We are introducing this bipartisan legislation to say to the MTA, if you are going to move forward with this — to say to (Gov.) Kathy Hochul, if you are going to move forward with this — then you don’t need our federal dollars anymore,” newly elected Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) said Thursday in Fort Lee, along with colleague Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).

“Kathy Hochul and the mayor of New York City need to pull back on this ridiculous plan that harms suburban commuters, that negatively impacts our economy and that hurts working class and middle class families all across the region.”

Passed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2019, the proposed tolls could be as high as $23 per vehicle when they go into effect in the next few years, according to a preliminary environmental assessment released by the MTA last summer.

That new toll could cost daily car commuters to the central business district $5,000 a year, the congressmen charged.

Gottheimer and Lawler’s bill would prohibit the US Department of Transportation from issuing grants to the MTA unless “drivers from Jersey and outer boroughs in New York crossings into Manhattan receive exemptions from any congestion tax.”

“New York City and the MTA are literally playing Russian roulette with their economy, and are willing to stick it to all those hardworking commuters from Jersey, the outer boroughs of New York city suburbs,” Gottheimer said.

“Many of us live in a mass transit desert, where there just aren’t a lot of options for mass transit. The families have to drive. Commuters have to drive. They have no other options.”

The MTA got over $15 billion in emergency aid to keep operating when COVID-19 decimated ridership levels in 2020. But ridership hasn’t recovered, and the authority says it’ll need more financial support in the near future to maintain its $19 billion operating budget.

Congestion pricing would fund the authority’s capital budget, which includes long-term improvements — including new elevators, modern subway signals and the next phase of the Second Ave. subway.

An MTA spokesman batted back at the lawmakers’ criticism, responding that 90% percent of commuters to Manhattan below 60th Street do not drive.

“Anyone serious about the environment and reducing gridlock understands that congestion pricing is good for the environment, good for getting fire trucks, buses and delivery vehicles through the city, and good for the 90% of people who depend on mass transit,” said John McCarthy, MTA Chief of External Relations.

Hochul told reporters Thursday she is “not deterred by people holding press conferences.”

“The congestion that we are experiencing in places like Manhattan are not sustainable,” she said. “It becomes paralyzing, whether it’s emergency vehicles or delivery trucks or the people who live there. It’s also a source of funding so we can continue investing in what is the lifeblood of the New York City region, which is our MTA.”

“I’m not deterred. They can do all the press conferences they want. It has no effect on me.,” she said.

Additional reporting by Zach Williams