WASHINGTON, D.C. — The federal government recently announced that it would provide $354 million in support of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing program, which would impose a fee on vehicles entering into the busiest parts of Manhattan. More than $200 million is still needed for the actual system to implement the plan.
Another stipulation impeding Bloomberg’s plan is that, under the agreement outlined by the US secretary of transportation, Mary E. Peters, the release of the funds is contingent upon the NY City Council and the State Legislature’s approving the plan, and the fee on drivers by March 2008.
Bloomberg is trying to establish the first broad-based congestion pricing program in the country, and to raise his national profile on environmental issues. But it is now up to the mayor to fund the rest of the project through borrowing, appropriation, or perhaps from a private corporation.
Most of what the department agreed to provide is designated for the construction of bus depots and other mass transit improvements, not for a system that supports the proposed charge on drivers.
Opponents of the fee on drivers called the news a setback for the Bloomberg administration, and predicted it would be more difficult now for the mayor to win approval for his congestion pricing plan.
Secretary Peters has been openly enthusiastic about the idea, and when she announced the agreement with New York, she called the mayor’s proposal “brash and bold” and described the plan to charge the drivers as a central component.
A federal Transportation Department official said that the lack of aid directly for congestion pricing did not represent any weakening of the department’s support for the plan. Under the mayor’s plan, cars would be charged $8 a day, and trucks $21, to enter Manhattan below 86th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.
The only thing left to get is the City Council and Legislature’s approval, which means they must agree to a reduction plan that specifically includes at least an 18-month pilot program of congestion pricing. This leaves the mayor in between a rock and a hard place.
However, the State Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, whose support would be essential for the measure, said he did not believe the agreement prevented the Legislature from coming up with a far different plan.
The mayor said he was open to new ideas but without funding, he is unable to move forward with the pricing program. He said federal officials saw New York’s plan as a way to show other cities that congestion pricing can work.
“If we don’t implement that plan we proposed to them, then we’re not going to get any money,” said the mayor.
Source: New York Times