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NYC congestion pricing delay raises concerns for MTA service advocates

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Congestion tolls planned for Manhattan below 60th Street aren’t expected to occur until late next year — and transit advocates fear the delay could affect desperately needed MTA upgrades.

Ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature approved the toll plan in 2019, in an effort to fund the MTA’s $55 billion modernization program that is supposed to result in more reliable and frequent trains , in addition to dozens of new elevators and thousands of new electric buses for the region.

Originally slated for a 2021 launch, the program has stalled due to bureaucratic delays at the federal level — most recently, an extensive environmental review is expected to take 16 months or more. Transit watchers are increasingly worried.

“Congestion pricing is the primary source of funding for the MTA’s capital program,” Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein said.

“Without it, they won’t be able to upgrade as many signals or install as many elevators.”

Still, Governor Kathy Hochul, who inherited her predecessor’s toll plan, didn’t seem keen on initiating new fees in an election year, despite traffic returning to pre-COVID levels.

Hochul insisted during Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary debate that she “supports” the plan, but that “now is not the right time” for it to be launched.

“We have been in negotiations with the federal government, who have a say in the next step and they have now put obstacles in the way of how we have to overcome,” said Hochul – a reference to the more than 400 questions that the US DOT has told the MTA to respond to the plan.

Governor Kathy Hochul isn’t pushing hard to initiate new fees in an election year.
Andrew Schwartz/SplashNews.com
Construction of the Long Island Railroad
Fans are nervous MTA upgrades will continue to be delayed.
Andrew Schwartz/SplashNews.com

“That will not happen next year under any circumstances.”

MTA officials said they did not need the toll money immediately. On Wednesday, the authority issued a statement saying it was “fully committed to congestion pricing”.

“We have expressed the importance of this program,” MTA spokesman John McCarthy said in a statement.

Andrew Rein of the Citizens Budget Committee said the MTA should be able to fund construction this year and next, but delays beyond that create real risks.

“At some point over the next few years, the lack of money for congestion pricing will threaten the MTA’s ability to make the major repairs it needs: we need stations, we need signals, we need rolling stock,” Rein said.

“At the end of the day, they need this money to fix the subways.”