N.J. Wants Faster Action by Feds on Congestion-Pricing Suit
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New Jersey accused the U.S. Department of Transportation of stalling its lawsuit challenging federal approval of New York City’s controversial congestion-pricing plan.
Lawyers for the Garden State, which has said the plan to impose charges on drivers entering Midtown Manhattan during business hours will unfairly impact its residents, said in a court conference Sept. 27 that the federal government’s proposed timetable for the case stretches into next spring, when congestion pricing could already be a reality.
Randy Mastro, a lawyer for New Jersey, said that gantries — metal structures to electronically collect the tolls — already have been installed on 60th Street in Manhattan.
“At any point in the spring, they can flick a switch,” Mastro said. “They’re being put up all over the edge of the zone as we speak.”
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New Jersey filed its suit in July, challenging the New York initiative, the first of its kind in the U.S., which aims to alleviate some of the world’s longest traffic delays. The plan would charge drivers, possibly as much as $23 a day for E-ZPass users, to enter Manhattan below 60th Street. According to New Jersey, the Transportation Department’s approval of the project was ill-considered and overlooked numerous risks posed to the state’s residents by shifting commuting patterns.
Mastro urged a federal judge in Newark, N.J., to set a schedule that would have the parties in the case finish submitting filings by the end of the year. He raised the possibility of seeking a court order blocking implementation of the plan but said New Jersey wants to avoid that.
The federal government says New Jersey’s proposed schedule is “unrealistic and inefficient” and that numerous steps need to be concluded before tolls become operational.
“Mr. Mastro’s notion that the switch will be flipped makes it sound like this will be a secretive process,” said Gregory Cumming, an attorney for the federal government. “The current timeline is May, but that date may move.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Leda Dunn Wettre, who oversaw the conference but won’t make the decision, expressed doubts about New Jersey’s proposed schedule.
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“The notion that briefing will be completed by Christmas Eve and you’ll get a decision by New Year’s Day is fanciful at best,” Wettre said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York City’s subways, buses and commuter rail lines, is building the tolling gantries, and drivers could begin paying the new charge as soon as May. Construction of the physical infrastructure for congestion pricing is 25% to 30% built already, Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief executive officer, told reporters after the transit agency’s monthly board meeting on Sept. 20.
Other groups are also pushing back against the plan. Taxis and for-hire vehicles — which would be charged once a day — say it will hurt their profitability. Car-owning residents of the district question why they must pay a daily toll while other Manhattan neighborhoods won’t be affected.