Border battle: New Jersey readies for war over Manhattan toll plan

Some people see Murphy’s comments as an ephemeral roar related to his upcoming re-election offer. Others see an ongoing attack on congestion prices in New Jersey when a 16-month environmental review of the toll project begins.

Other New Jersey officials are also against the New York plans, but any specific retaliation from the governor was previously unspoken. At some point in 2019, Murphy said he would not evoke a full “jersey attitude” to fight the new tolls. Around the same time, former Republican Governor Chris Christie said New York was “run everywhere”New Jersey on the subject.

That just changed. When asked about the issue last week, Murphy told members of a local chamber of commerce, “We’re not going to give in if New Jersey commuters are discriminated against, period.” He then threatened to halt the operations of the Port Authority, which oversees the area’s shipping terminals, major airports, the World Trade Center, a subway system, and most of the vehicle bridges and tunnels that connect New York and New Jersey .

The port authority, which is jointly controlled by representatives of the two states, has long been a battlefield in which governors argued over their priorities – even before the infamous “Bridgegate” scandal. Still, Murphy’s threat came as a surprise from a governor whom one of his allies in the fight – Ron Simoncini of the Fair Congestion Pricing Alliance – described as “one of the quietest people in the world”.

A senior Murphy administration official said the governor’s request was consistent and simple: take care of the drivers of the George Washington Bridge by offering them the same loans New York plans to offer, drivers crossing the Holland and Lincoln Tunnel to enter Manhattan.

That said, if a New Jersey commuter pays $ 12.50 to cross a bridge or tunnel, Murphy argues that all crossing fees should be deducted from the new MTA toll. So if the new toll were $ 15 a day, a New Jersey commuter crossing a bridge or tunnel would pay maybe $ 2.50 more per day than $ 15 more.

Members of the New Jersey congressional delegation have gone further in their demands. Democratic MPs Bill Pascrell and Josh Gottheimer argue that New York is deterring New Jersey commuters by providing all toll revenue for its own subways and buses.

They argue that if some money were used to fund the public transportation that New Jerseyans bring to New York in the first place, such as the NJ Transit buses and trains and the Port Authority’s PATH trains, the tolls would be fairer.

“Manhattan may be an island, but in terms of interstate trade, it is not an island on its own,” said Pascrell in a statement addressed to the MTA.

The battle over congestion prices is not the only dispute between states. In mid-September, MTA officials called New Jersey “illogical” in a dispute over how billions in pandemic aid dollars could be allocated for regional transit. The Murphy official said the administration is not playing 3D chess, linking that dispute to concerns about congestion pricing.

A congressional adviser also said gubernatorial elections and other disputes were not the issue. Rather, the problem for New Jersey is that New York likes to forget that it relies on New Jersey commuters.

“This is not about the choice and not about the Covid formula,” said the consultant. “The greed of New York there doesn’t color our opinion of the greed of New York here.”

However, the chances for New Jersey of getting a piece of the New York pie seem slim. While the MTA has fairly extensive powers in setting tolls – as long as they raise around $ 1 billion a year – New York law says where the toll goes: 80 percent for urban transit, 10 percent for Long Island Rail Road and 10 percent to Metro North, the train system that serves part of the Hudson Valley and Connecticut.

New Jersey politicians often portray their state’s commuters as unique prisoners to the whims of New York City. But New Yorkers trying to leave their state are often caught up in unilateral tolls themselves – on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway .

“There’s a whole freeway that goes through central New Jersey, if we have to go south this is the only way,” said Danny Pearlstein, director of politics and communications for the Riders Alliance, a group that works in the United States Name of New. uses York subway and bus drivers.

Some of the tolls are used to finance local public transport – in New Jersey. This spring, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority signed a contract that sends billions of dollars to NJ Transit in the coming years. Likewise, the tolls for crossing bridges and tunnels are set by the bi-state port authority.

“If New Jersey needs more transit, the New Jersey governor and the legislature have every possible means of raising that money,” Pearlstein said.

Jeff Tittel, the retired New Jersey Sierra Club director and Murphy critic, said the New Jersey governor and other New Jersey politicians were making congestion prices a problem as a distraction from the already soaring toll and gas taxes in New Jersey. (This year the gas tax was lowered.)

“It’s actually about playing with the more affluent and suburban drivers at the expense of local transport,” says Tittel.

It remains unclear how many New Jersey drivers would be affected by the new tolls. MTA officials said an ongoing environmental review is aimed at finding out.

Existing estimates vary a bit in their statements: An analysis of the pro-toll The Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that “an average of 1.6% of workers are subject to a congestion fee”. In a 2019 report, the New York City Planning Department reported an estimated 44,000 workers came to Manhattan from New Jersey by car. In another 2019 Report, estimates the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council 111,000 people have registered the central business district in cars, taxis, vans or trucks through New Jersey. All of those numbers have likely been turned upside down by the pandemic.

Regardless of the number, proponents of congestion pricing argue that the new tolls are actually making things fair for drivers in New Jersey. The new MTA toll would hit far more Long Island drivers, who can currently cross four different bridges over the East River to Manhattan for free.

In contrast, New Jersey drivers now pay $ 12.50 to cross the Hudson River tunnels and bridge.

“While New Jersey drivers have always paid tolls to cross the Hudson River, many Westchester, Long Island, and Connecticut drivers have avoided paying tolls by crossing free city-owned intersections like the Brooklyn Bridge,” Zoe Baldwin, New Jersey Director of Regional Planning Association, said the MTA during a recent public hearing. “With appropriate toll credits on the three Hudson River crossings, this new policy will level the playing field.”

There seems to be a consensus that it is fair to deduct the cost of crossing the Hudson Tunnels, as the tunnels are already dumping cars directly into the central business district. But the toll commuters pay to cross the George Washington Bridge is an ongoing problem that Murphy and others reported back in 2019.

There’s a delicate dance, however: tolls have to be high enough to keep some people off their cars. And every carve-out for a group increases the toll for a group that does not receive a discount. That means New Jersey politicians are asking New York politicians about discounts that could increase tolls for New York drivers who are actually allowed to vote in the New York elections.

There have been similar plans to relieve Manhattan for years. “After more than 100 years and five generations of verbal, financial, technological and behavioral acrobatics in the name of relieving traffic jams, New York City continues to stand still,” federal environmental officials concluded in a report – Written in 1979.

On Earth Day 2007, then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg imposed new tolls to purify the air and fight climate change. In Albany, the New York Republicans agreed to the idea, but the Democratic controversy broke it down.

The idea was revived after a disastrous summer of 2017 when there were delays, disruptions and derailments in the subway.

The New Jersey resistance now appears to be solidifying.

The Fair Congestion Pricing Alliance, for example, is a new group working with the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce to generate coordinated opposition to tolls.

Simoncini, the head of the alliance, said the plan is to use the scrutiny conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation to make New Jersey’s voice heard. He said New Jersey officials “realize that there is no other firebreak unless the Department of Transportation tells New York to cut it.”

Another argument from New Jersey is that if New York’s main goal is to reduce air quality, there are better ways to do it, such as focusing on diesel engine pollution. Monica Mazurek, a professor of engineering at Rutgers University, argues that New York officials use tolls to solve a variety of interrelated economic and environmental problems that tolls alone may not be appropriate.

“We need to think broader than just increasing tolls to meet some of MTA’s budgetary goals,” she said.

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