Environmental Assessment for New York MTA’s proposed Congestion Pricing Program released

The long-awaited environmental assessment of the proposed central business district tolling program (CBDTP), also known as congestion pricing, for Manhattan was released by the Federal Highway Administration, the state Department of Transportation New York, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and New York City Department of Transportation.

In summary, the paper lays out the case for how congestion pricing would meet the goal of the New York State MTA Transit Mobility and Reform Act to reduce traffic congestion in the CBD and raise funds that would be invested in transit. The proposed CBDTP would charge non-commercial passenger vehicles once per day with exemptions for qualified vehicles carrying a disabled person and authorized emergency vehicles.

The Environmental Assessment examined two alternatives: the no-action alternative and the CBD toll alternative, with several scenarios. The CBD toll alternative was found to meet four main criteria:

Reduce daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) within the Manhattan CBD by at least five percent. Reduce the number of vehicles entering the Manhattan CBD daily by at least 10 percent. Create a source of financing for capital improvements and generate sufficient annual net income to finance them. $15 billion for capital projects for the MTA Capital Program. Establish a tolling program consistent with the purposes underlying the New York State legislation entitled the MTA Transit Mobility and Reform Act.

The assessment found that 85 percent of existing work trips in the CBD are by transit, five percent by car from New York City, three percent by car from suburban New York counties, three percent by car from New Jersey, two-tenths of one percent by car from Connecticut, and four percent by other modes, including taxis, rental vehicles, biking and walking.

The environmental assessment looked at 20 areas to assess potential adverse effects of CBDTP implementation and found four: roads and intersections; traffic; pedestrians and bicycles; environmental justice: would require mitigation efforts.

For example, low-income drivers who do not have alternative transportation and feel they must drive may be eligible for a tax credit and could be exempt from the EZ Pass deposit fee. The project’s sponsors point to their commitment to establishing a community-based environmental justice group that would meet every two years to share updated data and analysis and hear potential concerns.

“The tremendous detail included in this assessment makes clear the widespread benefits that flow from tolling the central business district,” said MTA President and CEO Janno Lieber. “Bottom line: Congestion pricing is good for the environment, good for public transit, and good for New York and the region. We look forward to public feedback in the coming weeks.”

Implementing tolls would achieve the project’s purpose and need: to reduce traffic congestion in the Manhattan CBD in a way that generates revenue for future transportation improvements.

The evaluation determined that implementation of the proposed program would result in a decrease in the number of vehicles entering the CBD by between 15.4 and 19.9 percent; and improvement of general air quality; a more reliable bus service due to reduced traffic and an increase in traffic flow of between one and two percent.

Reactions to EA

Regional Plan Association President and CEO Tom Wright said the association welcomes the release of the environmental assessment.

“To ensure successful implementation of the program, the MTA must limit exemptions and create a variable fare structure that eliminates toll shopping. As the Environmental Assessment makes clear, by including these important details, the congestion pricing will bring substantial benefits to communities throughout the metro region. We look forward to working with the MTA and our civic partners to implement the policy and make this vision a reality,” said Wright.

Riders Alliance director of communications and policy Danny Pearlstein said: “Millions of transit users are in dire need of the modern, reliable and accessible subway that will pay the price of congestion and traffic reduction that will speed up service to ‘buses. Congestion pricing has been examined in exquisite detail. and it can’t happen soon enough.”

Public comment and meetings

Project partners received more than 7,300 comments in early enhanced disclosure while the environmental assessment was being prepared. They will hold several virtual public hearings through the end of August and hold a meeting for the Environmental Justice Stakeholder Working Group on August 19th and a meeting of the Environmental Justice Technical Advisory Group on August 22nd.

State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, “The release of this Environmental Assessment is an important step in this transformative initiative to help us reduce congestion in Manhattan’s Central Business District. Cheers everyone to attend the public hearings and provide input and feedback so we can make improvements and deliver a comprehensive plan.”

If the FHWA approves the project, contractors would have 310 days to design, develop and implement the toll infrastructure and toll system technology that would process the tolls.

The full environmental assessment as well as information on upcoming virtual hearings are available at https://new.mta.info/project/CBDTP.

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