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State Commission Approves a Plan for Congestion Pricing


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State Commission Approves a Plan for Congestion Pricing


New York Times

Published: February 1, 2008


[float=right]congestionlarge.jpg[/float]A state traffic commission voted on Thursday to recommend that New York City charge drivers an $8 daily fee to bring their cars into Manhattan below 60th Street.


But the proposal to institute what is known as congestion pricing has a tortuous political road ahead of it, and officials said the commission’s action merely begins a period of intense negotiations aimed at hammering out a version of the plan that could gain the support of the State Legislature, which has until March 31 to take up the issue.


“I would suspect this would go close to the deadline,” said Christine C. Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council. “The important thing here is we’ve taken a significant step forward to having a congestion pricing plan in the City of New York.”


The plan, which passed the commission by a vote of 13 to 2, is intended to reduce traffic in Manhattan and other parts of the city, cut pollution and generate an estimated $491 million a year in revenue that would be dedicated to expanding and modernizing the region’s mass transportation system. Supporters of the plan said that its success hinged on showing the public and legislators exactly how that money would be spent.


That will become more clear in the coming weeks as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority develops a new five-year capital spending program for major projects. The state law that created the traffic commission also required the transportation authority to submit the spending program to the Legislature by the end of March. Officials have said that plan could total as much as $30 billion.


“The issue is going to first and foremost depend on looking at this and making a decision during the month of March in the context of an M.T.A. capital plan,” said Marc V. Shaw, the commission chairman, after the commission’s meeting in Midtown. With the state and city facing budget problems, he said, “I think that’ll be the best chance this program has of getting implemented.”


Opposition to the plan has been strongest in Queens, Brooklyn and suburban communities, where many of the drivers who would pay the congestion fee live. State Assembly members from those areas have also been among the most vocal critics of the plan. The plan is not expected to face as much opposition in the State Senate.


Speaking at a separate event a short time before the commission voted on the recommendation, Gov. Eliot Spitzer said the new capital plan would benefit those areas.


“There will be significant investments in Queens and Brooklyn, Staten Island, up into Westchester and north,” Mr. Spitzer said, “to show that this is going to be a much more developed, much more efficient transportation system that will benefit all taxpayers.” He called congestion pricing “essential to the future of New York City.”


The proposal approved by the commission would charge drivers with an E-ZPass $8 a day to enter Manhattan below 60th Street on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Those drivers would also receive a credit for bridge or tunnel tolls they paid on the same day. Drivers without an E-ZPass would pay $9 and would not receive credit for tolls.


The plan is similar to one proposed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg last April. That plan, however, established a northern boundary at 86th Street and included a $4 charge for car trips within the congestion zone.


The federal government has pledged to give the city about $350 million for mass transit improvements in support of a congestion pricing plan, but only if the Legislature meets the March 31 deadline, and the mayor has sought to use that to pressure lawmakers.


Mr. Bloomberg said in a written statement that he supported the commission’s proposal.


The proposal’s difficult prospects in the Assembly were foreshadowed Thursday by the fact that the two dissenting voters were the two Assembly members in attendance, Richard L. Brodsky, a Democrat from Westchester County, and Herman D. Farrell Jr., a Democrat from Upper Manhattan. “We are for the first time deciding that there will be an entry fee into public space,” Mr. Brodsky said, charging that the plan favored the wealthy. “It is an extraordinary change.”


Officials said that in the coming weeks, if an agreement can be worked out with leaders in Albany, lawmakers will write a piece of legislation to enact the plan. The City Council would then have to vote to request that the Legislature take action, setting the stage for a vote in the Legislature.

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