New Jerseyans give a loud Bronx cheer to New York’s con­ges­tion pric­ing plan

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Emma G. Fitzsim­mons

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.”

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