State files suit to stop congestion pricing plan

Murphy bristles at what he says is MTA’s efforts to line its coffers at expense of N.J. families

Saying the Federal Highway Administration choose to unlawfully fast-track what he called “the MTA’s attempt to line its own coffers at the expense of New Jersey families,” Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday that the state is filing a lawsuit against the agency and the Department of Transportation in an attempt to stop a congestion pricing plan set to go into effect as soon as next spring.

In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the state of New Jersey argues that the USDOT and the FHWA violated the National Environmental Protection Act, which requires a full environmental impact review for projects of this projected impact and scope, as well as the Clean Air Act.

The hope is to block what state officials are calling an ill-conceived congestion pricing plan put forward by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City and New York state agencies.

“The costs of standing idly by while the MTA uses New Jersey residents to help balance its budget sheets are more than economic,” Murphy said. “At the MTA’s own admission, its tolling program would divert traffic and shift pollution to many vulnerable New Jersey communities, impacting air quality while offering nothing to mitigate such considerable harm.

“Today, we stand as a unified front against this reckless scheme and reaffirm our commitment to combat the unjust taxation of our hardworking residents by other states.”

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.), who has been perhaps the most vocal critic of the plan, praised Murphy.

“Today’s a huge day in the fight against New York’s commuter crushing $23/day Congestion Tax,” he said. “If the MTA gets its way, trucks will be backed up here in North Jersey, billowing cancer-causing pollution into the lungs of our children.

“I want to thank our governor for punching back at a state that decided to use Jersey as their piggy bank to solve their years of criminal mismanagement at the MTA.”

Gottheimer indicated the suit may be the first of many.

“I don’t know how the MTA chairman looks at himself in the mirror,” he said. “He should come to Fort Lee and look Mayor (Mark) Sokolich in the eye and tell him why it’s OK to give cancer to the children here. I’ve been speaking with mayors from North Jersey in my district — and my bet is he can expect even more lawsuits. We just don’t take a punch in Jersey, we punch back.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called the effort a “shakedown.”

“As the senior senator of New Jersey, I have made it abundantly clear that it’s unacceptable for New York to try balancing its budget on the backs of New Jersey commuters,” he said. “Their proposed congestion tax scheme is nothing more than a shakedown and must be defeated.”