A group of politicians, including Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer and three Republican U.S. representatives, are attempting to block the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) congestion pricing program, which would toll motorists driving south of 60th Street in Manhattan in order to reduce traffic and pollution.
Congestion pricing, a program that will charge vehicles coming into Manhattan’s central business district, will reduce traffic on busy roads and generate up to $1 billion annually to modernize public transit throughout New York City.
Gottheimer and his GOP colleagues created a “Bipartisan Congressional Anti-Congestion Tax Caucus” and they are calling for federal intervention into the MTA’s plan.
Their efforts to stop the tolls come at a time when traffic congestion in New York City is at an all-time high, making it harder for fire trucks, buses, and delivery vehicles to move through the city.
The revenues from the tolls would fund major upgrades to mass transit in New York.
“New York City and its surrounding regions and neighborhoods are experiencing unprecedented levels of traffic due to a still significant portion of the commuting public opting for cars over public transit,” said a coalition of civic organizations, environmental justice groups and transit advocates who support the plan. “This increased traffic presents the city with an environmental crisis, with increased air pollution having its greatest impact on communities of color, disadvantaged communities, and environmental justice communities.”
Despite this, the politicians are pushing for another environmental study of the tolling program and an audit into how the MTA spent its federal COVID-19 relief funds.
“It is clear that bipartisanship is not always a good thing, particularly when it is used to block much-needed environmental remedies,” said progressive New Jersey Democrat Lisa McCormick, an advocate for better mass transit and policies that protect the environment.
When the MTA released an environmental assessment of its planned congestion pricing program, Environmental Defense Fund Director Mary Barber said: “This landmark assessment confirms congestion pricing can fund a more modern, sustainable and reliable public transportation system. Along with less traffic, New York residents and commuters will be able to get on the move faster and more efficiently.”
The newly formed “Bipartisan Congressional Anti-Congestion Tax Caucus” consists of four U.S. House members: Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), and Tom Kean (R-N.J.).
Gottheimer and Malliotakis held a news conference to announce the formation of the group and its objective to stop the MTA’s congestion pricing program, which would toll motorists driving south of 60th Street in Manhattan.
Gottheimer has been a vocal critic of the congestion pricing program for months and previously proposed a plan that would cut federal funds for the MTA if the tolls were to be approved. Malliotakis has also been a vocal opponent of the program, calling it a “cash grab” that would hurt struggling New Yorkers.
Lawler and Kean were not present at the news conference, but they have also joined the caucus. Lawler has been a vocal opponent of the congestion pricing program, citing concerns about the impact it would have on commuters in his district. Kean, a former New Jersey Senate Minority Leader, has also expressed concerns about the program and its potential impact on New Jersey residents who commute to Manhattan for work.
The caucus members are calling for federal intervention into the MTA and an audit of how the agency spent roughly $15 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds it received in 2020 and 2021. They also want the MTA to conduct another environmental study of the tolling program, citing concerns about increased traffic on Staten Island and longer travel times from central New Jersey.
Despite the opposition from the caucus members, the congestion pricing program is in the final stages of approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The revenues from the tolls are required by law to fund major upgrades to mass transit in New York.
After having been passed into law in 2019 by the New York State Legislature, congestion pricing was set to move forward for federal approval prior to the policy’s scheduled implementation in January of 2021. For nearly two years, the Trump administration blocked the project by stalling any decision regarding the necessary environmental review process.
Gottheimer has received significant donations from Wall Street and other business interests, leading some critics to question his commitment to progressive policies as wealthy donors rushed funds to the conservative Democrat after he and eight colleagues threatened to torpedo the White House’s Build Back Better plan.
Gottheimer raised over $7.7 million for his 2020 re-election campaign, making him one of the top House fundraisers that year. In 2022, he raised over $16 million, putting him among the top fundraisers in Congress.
Gottheimer’s ability to raise large sums of money for his campaigns could be seen as a political advantage, as it allows him to compete more effectively against opponents who may not have the same level of financial resources.