Will NJ drivers get slammed by NYC’s congestion fee? A Q&A with a commuter

New Jersey drivers already get clobbered by tolls at the Hudson River crossings, so the last thing they need is another purse-busting fee for driving into Manhattan’s “Central Business District,” which is defined as the region below 60th Street.

But if there is any way to discourage driving, reduce traffic, improve air quality, and raise $15 billion for the MTA to modernize a century-old subway system, a congestion pricing program is the most plausible one.

There are some kinks to work out, however, and New York is not listening. The big one: Commuters who drive into Manhattan using the Holland or Lincoln tunnels will not have to pay the fee, but those using the George Washington Bridge must. The logic of that is questionable, but the result is not: It will nail commuters who use the GWB, and send thousands more south to jam the tunnels. Worse still, New Jersey doesn’t even have a seat on the board that will ultimately make the rules.

Despite that, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign says that New Jersey needs to chill. The non-profit, dedicated to fixing our commutes with planet-friendly policy recommendations, released a study that said the impact on our state may be nominal if preliminary guidelines set by New York’s legislature do not change. Felicia Park-Rogers, director of regional infrastructure projects for Tri-State, spoke with Dave D’Alessandro of the Star-Ledger Editorial Board to spell it out for Jersey commuters:

Q. Start with what everyone wants to know: When they crank up this congestion charge in 2023 or so, do you anticipate that some New Jerseyans will have to pay a Hudson toll plus a second toll, and is that fair?

A. Good question. As it’s written, the legislation singles out drivers at the Holland, Lincoln, Midtown and Battery tunnels for exemptions. From there, the Traffic Mobility Review Board will flesh out more details. What we recommend is that drivers receive a credit on tolls for Hudson crossings. For example, if you pay $10 to go through the Holland and they set the toll in the Central Business District at $20, you only pay $10 when you drive into the CBD.

But they don’t mention the George Washington Bridge in the legislation, because they were looking at the direct entries into the cordon zone. We believe that it makes sense to equalize all tolls throughout the region.

Q. But as of now, the only commuters who are likely to get slammed by a double charge – bridge toll plus congestion charge — come from the GWB, the RFK Bridge, and the Henry Hudson Bridge. This may seem like a narrow procedural point, but why be so arbitrary?

A. One aspect of the legislation is that tolling is required to produce an annual amount of dollars, which the MTA will leverage into a $15 billion bond. So the issue is this: The more exemptions you create, the higher the toll has to be. The one way to reduce the pain for everybody is to have few exemptions, so more people pay less rather than a few people paying extraordinarily high toll rates. But certainly, the most impacted people by this legislation are actually New York drivers.

Q. So Tri-State doesn’t endorse…

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