New Jerseyans give a loud Bronx cheer to New York’s congestion pricing plan
New York and New Jersey are neighbors, but they have not always treated each other in a neighborly way. Their proximity and pride have led to plenty of fights – over who can lay claim to Ellis Island (both actually), which state has the best pizza (still raging) and the proper way to get gasoline (solo versus full service).
But the latest chapter in this rivalry might be among the nastiest.
New York recently approved congestion pricing, a plan to make it more expensive to drive into the heart of Manhattan. Officials in New Jersey are enraged and have griped, half-jokingly, that it will cost less to travel to California than to cross the Hudson River. And they are vowing revenge.
The mayor of Jersey City suggested that New Jerseyans should impose tolls on New Yorkers entering their state. A congressman is calling for federal legislation to guarantee that drivers – who already pay tolls to cross between the states – are not charged twice. Others believe a lawsuit could be filed to stop the tolls.
“We are a little confounded about why suddenly New York would turn around and take a two-by-four to New Jersey,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat who represents a slice of New Jersey suburbs near Manhattan and plans to introduce a bill he hopes will pressure New York to give his state’s drivers a break.
Gov. Philip Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat, said he would fight any effort to force drivers using the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest span, to pay two tolls.
“I won’t stand for it,” he told reporters, although he stopped short of summoning what he called a full “Jersey attitude” like other leaders seeking payback.
Starting in early 2021, vehicles entering Manhattan below 60th Street will pay a toll to raise money to fix New York City’s beleaguered subway. While the fees have not been set, some experts believe it could cost about $14, igniting a fight among interest groups to win exemptions or discounts.
About 115,000 people drive from New Jersey into Manhattan below 60th Street every weekday – about 13 percent of the 880,000 people who drive into the congestion zone, according to a 2017 count by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, a prominent planning agency. That does not include an additional 150,000 people who cross the George Washington Bridge each day, from New Jersey to New York, many of whom are also destined for the congestion zone.
Cuomo, a Democrat in his third term, will have power in deciding who pays the toll because he controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York transit agency that will determine the tolls and exemptions. Cuomo, who chose the authority’s new chairman, Patrick Foye, and the subway’s leader, Andy Byford, exerts great influence over the agency’s priorities.
Furious drivers and elected officials have started jockeying for favors. Leaders on Staten Island want a discount for drivers using the VerrazzanoNarrows Bridge so they do not pay tolls twice. Police officers are calling for an exemption when they drive to work.
But the outcry is perhaps loudest in New Jersey, a place that some say has a chip on its shoulder when it comes to New York. “I’m waiting for the Oxygen tax,” one man vented on Facebook. “That’s fine,” another man wrote. “I’ll never drive there again.”
Drivers already pay as much as $15 to use the Lincoln and Holland tunnels or the George Washington Bridge to enter Manhattan. Some might switch to New Jersey Transit, the state’s commuter railroad and bus network. But the system is often no more reliable than the subway and also suffers from years of neglect.
For that reason, some New Jersey leaders, including Loretta Weinberg, the Senate majority leader, argue that it would only be fair for New Jersey Transit to get a cut of the revenue from congestion pricing. Weinberg had suggested partly in jest that it would soon be “cheaper to fly to California” after seeing ads for $79 flights from Newark to Los Angeles.
“The point is, it’s becoming so expensive to go eight miles from Teaneck, N.J., to New York,” said Weinberg, who lives in Teaneck, just west of the George Washington Bridge.
The idea of charging New York drivers who enter New Jersey – proposed by Steven Fulop, the mayor of Jersey City – would be difficult because a clause in the U.S. Constitution bans states from restricting interstate commerce.
Gottheimer thinks he might have found another way. He plans to introduce a bill that could cut federal funding to New York or the transportation authority if New Jersey drivers are forced to pay two tolls for one trip into Manhattan. “I don’t look at it as retaliation,” Gottheimer said. “I look at it as encouraging continued cooperation.”