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NYC Congestion Pricing Draft Shows Costly Commute, Especially for New Jersey Drivers

Drivers heading into parts of Manhattan may soon face a new $15 toll, according to draft recommendations from a group tasked with crafting New York’s congestion pricing plan.

The tolls, which could be in place next spring, would be a historic move for a city long plagued by traffic. The tolls are meant to discourage driving and ease traffic south of 60th street and to help fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

But the tolls have set off years of controversy. Similar plans have come and gone. These tolls are created by law and have the blessing of federal officials, though there are still a few hurdles, like a lawsuit filed against the plan by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.

These recommendations, if adopted, will create an especially costly commute for some New Jersey drivers, about $25 or $30 a day combined with other tolls commuters already pay to cross the Hudson River.

The tolling advisory group, known as the Traffic Mobility Review Board, is recommending a $5 discount for drivers who already pay tolls to enter Manhattan via the Queens-Midtown, Hugh L. Carey, Holland, and Lincoln tunnels.

But it does not recommend such a credit for drivers coming in across the George Washington Bridge. They already pay nearly $15 for that crossing during rush hour, meaning some drivers will be paying nearly $30 per trip into the city.

“As a conceptual matter, I support congestion pricing, as long as it is structured in a way that is fair to all sides,” Murphy said in a statement. “This plan is neither fair nor equitable.”

In New York, the tolls have caused some consternation, but their creation follows decades of failed attempts to curb traffic in Manhattan. Still, the details of the costs and who will pay them remain a knotty issue for New York officials as well.

“Gov. [Kathy] Hochul has been clear from the start: congestion pricing is critical to New York’s future, delivering better transit, cleaner air and less traffic clogging our streets,” said Hochul spokesperson John Lindsay. “The governor has said repeatedly that $23 is too expensive for the central business district tolls, and is carefully reviewing the recommendations of the Traffic Mobility Review Board.”

The MTA and the board advising it had considered fares ranging from $9 to $23 for passenger vehicles and between $12 and $82 for trucks. The scenarios contemplated different combinations of potential discounts, credits and exemptions.

Ultimately, the board seemed to land in the middle — $15 for cars and $24 or $36 for trucks, depending on their size, according to the draft recommendations obtained by POLITICO.

There is still a ways to go: The draft report will need to be formally adopted by the advisory board, then approved by the MTA, which has final say on the rates.

New Jersey and others have lobbied that board for exemptions from congestion pricing, but the board’s chair and others have argued that every exemption drives up the cost to other drivers, so the board appears loathe to grant many exemptions.

New Jersey is suing the federal government to block the tolls. There have been settlement talks in the case, but attorneys for the state also fret the state won’t get its day in court until the tolls are already a done deal.