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N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy bashes congestion pricing, offers to find ‘common ground’ with MTA

by Staff

A marathon public hearing on the MTA’s congestion pricing program drew testimony from several New Jersey elected officials — including the state’s governor — bashing the plan as an ill-conceived cash grab.

More than four hours into the hearing — the third of four scheduled through Monday night — the moderator called on “Phil Dutton,” who registered to testify over Zoom. When his camera turned on, Dutton revealed himself to be New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who noted that “Dutton” was his middle name.

“This is an incredibly ill-conceived plan. And it is not, frankly, about congestion or the environment. It is a means to solve the deficit,” Murphy said.

The State of New Jersey was the first to file a federal lawsuit challenging the legality of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Central Business District Tolling Program, which would charge most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan during peak hours.

The MTA is looking to generate $1 billion annually to help fund infrastructure investments, including at the Long Island Rail Road, and projects the program will reduce congestion in the toll zone by 17%.

MTA officials hope to enact the tolls as early as June, but have said the effort could be delayed by the litigation. Murphy, in his testimony, said New Jersey officials are “willing to sit at the table with the MTA and find some common ground.”

“We want to be reasonable,” Murphy said. “But, if this is the plan, as it is constructed it is completely and utterly unacceptable to the commuters from New Jersey into Manhattan.”

In a statement in response to Murphy, MTA external relations chief John McCarthy said “a 4,000-page yearslong environmental review” that studied the impact of congestion pricing “all the way to Philadelphia” found no significant environmental impact.

Testifying during a Friday hearing, Murphy policy adviser Christopher D’Elia proposed several changes to address the “disproportionate burden” congestion pricing would have on New Jersey drivers. They included offering a credit to drivers entering Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge, doubling the proposed $5 credit for those entering through the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, shortening the peak hour pricing period, and not charging any tolls during off-peak hours.

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco testified in person at the MTA’s Manhattan headquarters, calling congestion pricing “nothing but a shameful money grab that will detrimentally hurt all of New York City’s neighbors.”

“You should all be ashamed of yourself,” Tedesco told MTA officials seated at a dais, adding that he “will see you … in court.”

MTA Capital Construction president Jamie Torres-Springer, talking to reporters during a break in the hearing, called Tedesco’s testimony “irresponsible.”

“Every dollar from congestion pricing will be dedicated to improving the mass transit system in the region that serves 85% of commuters,” Torres-Springer said.

At the last scheduled hearing, on Monday night, commuters shared ranging opinions on the plan, depending on from where, and how, they commuted. Several transit users from Brooklyn spoke in favor of the plan, which they said would improve air quality and reduce traffic accidents.

Marie Barokas, a freelance artist from Nassau County, said she takes her car into Manhattan because the transit system is “unreliable and, in my opinion, unsafe.”

“So I drive,” Barokas said. “I consider myself a financially responsible person, to a fault. And I am being squeezed for every last penny. I refuse to put any more money into the New York City economy. I will not shop here, eat here, or entertain myself here, and I suggest others do the same.”

 New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said he supported congestion pricing, although there remain “a lot of questions that have to be answered,” including about its potential impact on low-income New Yorkers.

“We can’t always know the unintended consequences,” Williams said. “Sometimes we have to move forward to find out what they are and try to address them.” 

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