Toll hike by any other name is still toll hike

MTA’s ‘congestion pricing’ proposal to assess steep fees on N.J. drivers heading into NYC is ill-conceived cash grab

New Jersey businesses and residents are currently coping with the severest inflation in a generation — especially in gas and energy prices — and, now, we have the Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposing what it euphemistically calls a “congestion pricing plan” — what is actually a toll increase on New Jersey drivers heading into New York City.

Make no mistake, this proposed MTA toll hike is aimed directly at the wallets of New Jersey’s businesses and commuters.

Currently, about 400,000 New Jerseyans cross the Hudson River to work in New York City, and they contribute about $3.7 billion per year into New York’s coffers, according to U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who has been a staunch and vocal opponent of the MTA’s proposal.

Apparently, this is not enough. So, the MTA developed this “congestion pricing” proposal, which would charge a new toll to commuters each time they drive into New York City’s central business district.

The MTA’s intent is to raise billions of dollars to upgrade New York City’s transportation infrastructure.

The MTA crafted this proposal without New Jersey’s involvement, and expended minimum effort to conduct fair and balanced hearings about its consequences. Little wonder the proposal turned out the way it did.

The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce agrees with Gov. Phil Murphy’s characterization of the MTA’s plan as nothing more than “a cash grab.”

In fact, we call it an ill-conceived cash grab.

Timing is ill-conceived

The MTA picked a curious time to push this toll hike. New York City is in line to receive $2 billion in federal funding from recently passed infrastructure legislation, and New Jersey just broke ground on the Gateway Tunnel Project, which, when completed, will ease traffic congestion in the city.

Fiscal impact is ill-conceived

The MTA’s proposal would charge New Jersey commuters between $9 and $23 per day — a specific figure has not been announced. The charge, it says, would be higher for commercial trucks. This could mean $5,000 or more in additional expenses for the average New Jersey commuter or business per year. This expense is in addition to the exorbitant tolls that New Jerseyans already pay to use the Hudson River bridges and tunnels. In other words, New Jersey commuters would be socked with a double tax. We applaud Murphy’s recent statement that the MTA plan simply cannot result in this double-hit on New Jersey commuters.

Proposed exemption to double tax is ill-conceived

Discussions are underway regarding this double-tax scenario, with one ill-conceived recommendation suggesting that New Jersey commuters using the Holland and Lincoln tunnels be exempt from the congestion toll payment. Under this proposal, motorists at the tunnels would still have to pay the fee, and then later be credited for it. This is a classic case of a government agency trying to fix a problem that shouldn’t be a problem in the first place. Making matters worse, this scenario would clearly result in commuters overburdening the tunnels to avoid a double-toll hit on the George Washington Bridge.

Distribution of revenue is ill-conceived

The current MTA proposal does not call for sharing the revenue raised by the “congestion pricing” with New Jersey Transit, which is a critical player in the New York-New Jersey commuting environment. This is another consequence of New Jersey’s interests not being represented during the MTA’s deliberations.

Environmental planning is ill-conceived

The current environmental assessments done for this proposal are not adequate for its size and scope. Murphy is correct to insist that a full environmental impact statement needs to be completed before any action can be taken on the MTA’s proposal.

We must continue pushing back

We thank Murphy, all the members of our state Legislature and all the members of our congressional delegation for standing with New Jersey’s businesses and commuters, and opposing New York’s ill-conceived cash grab, and we urge them to continue to do so.

Tom Bracken is the CEO and president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Trenton.