(New York Daily News): The MTA has resubmitted a plan to implement congestion pricing tolls in Manhattan to the feds, a step transit officials hope will put the major initiative on track to be implemented by 2024.
The revised draft environmental assessment is the latest step in what’s become an onerous review process for the car-taxing scheme that aims to generate revenue for public transit. Congesting pricing was initially supposed to launch in 2021.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Janno Lieber on Wednesday said his team has responded to “virtually all the questions and data requests thrown to us by our federal partners” and that he hopes the unexpected level of scrutiny from President Biden’s administration only delays the program by another four to six weeks.
State lawmakers and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2019 approved the tolls, which aim to charge motorists who drive south of 60th St. in Manhattan and use the revenues to pay for major transit improvements like the Second Ave. subway extension to East Harlem and the installation of dozens of subway elevators.
MTA leaders previously said delays by the Trump administration pushed back the timeline. But even with Biden in the White House, the MTA is still having difficulty getting the green light from the Federal Highway Administration, which must approve the tolls because streets in Manhattan receive federal funding for maintenance and repairs.
The MTA submitted a draft environmental assessment to the feds in February, but on March 11 got back a list of 430 questions and comments on the plan. It took until last week for the agency to compile answers. MTA officials have repeatedly denied requests to release the list of questions sent by the Highway Administration.
Lieber last year said he planned to release the draft environmental assessment for public review in June — but that won’t happen until at least later this summer.
An spokeswoman for the Highway Administration said the federal agency is “already reviewing the resubmission,” but did not provide a timeline on when it will be released publicly.
Once the feds approve the program — which transit officials do not expect will happen until next year — it will take at least another 310 days to set up the equipment to launch the tolls.
The plan has already been questioned by Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams.
Hochul earlier this month said during a debate that “now is not the right time” for congestion pricing, but said she was pushing the feds to approve the program. And Adams on Wednesday said during a news conference that the MTA should exempt many drivers from the tolls.
“We need to be clear that there should be a level of exemptions that we should put in place,” said Adams. “Let’s say you have to go to chemo treatment at a certain hospital. We should take that into consideration.”
Lieber warned that giving drivers exemptions would force the MTA to increase the price of the tolls, which transit officials have previously said could be between $9 and $23. The program is required by state law to bring in enough money to finance $15 billion of the MTA’s 2020-2024 capital plan, which is expected to cost $51.5 billion.
“The more exemptions and discounts there are, the higher inevitably the base toll will have to be,” Lieber said.