18 NY lawmakers join suit to block $15 congestion toll

Originally published in New York Post on .
Eighteen elected officials have joined a federal lawsuit by the teachers union aimed at blocking the controversial new $15 congestion pricing toll to enter Midtown Manhattan.

Eighteen elected officials have joined a federal lawsuit by the teachers union aimed at blocking the controversial new $15 congestion pricing toll to enter Midtown Manhattan.

More than half the plaintiffs are Democrats whose fellow party members approved the law greenlighting congestion pricing in 2019.

UTF President Mike Mulgrew and Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella welcomed the growing, bipartisan coalition who object to having constituents and members pay such a high toll to drive into Midtown south of 60th Street.

“As we have said time and time again, congestion pricing is a detriment to those that will be affected by this toll, environmentally and financially, and for people of all walks of life from across the five boroughs and beyond,” said Fosella, who initially joined as a co-plaintiff. “We appreciate the support from elected officials and interested groups, as this fight cannot be won by any one of us alone.” 

State senators now joining the suit include James Skoufis (D-Rockland/Orange), Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (D-Staten island), Iwen Chu (Brooklyn), and Monica Martinez (D-Suffolk). Assemblymembers Aileen Gunther (D-Middletown), Jamie Williams (D-Brooklyn) and David Weprin (D-Queens) have also signed, as has NYC Councilwoman Kamillah Hanks (D-Staten Island),

New Republican plaintiffs include a big Staten Island contingent including Council members Joseph Borelli and David Carr, US Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and state Sen. Andrew Lanza.

A trio of minority advocacy groups joined as plaintiffs: The A. Philip Randolph Institute, The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Gov. Kathy Hochul strongly backs the congestion pricing program, which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to implement as early as May. She put a proposal in her budget to go after toll cheaters.

Transit officials expect the toll to raise $1 billion per year, which will be used to fund $15 billion in bonds to pay for major upgrades to the MTA’s subway, commuter railroads and bus systems. Drivers will pay significantly less during off-peak hours.

Hudson Valley plaintiffs said their constituents get the short end of the stick under the congestion pricing toll because it gets less transit service.

“Orange County residents pay similar if not identical MTA fees and taxes as other, highly-serviced areas,” said Sen. Skoufis, “yet we only have one single, sporadically operating train line for the over 400,000 residents in the county.

“Between the George Washington Bridge and this new toll, $30 for the ‘privilege’ of driving into Manhattan when my constituents do not have a mass transit alternative is outright theft. As the MTA has provided no offsets or carve-outs for Orange or Rockland county drivers, I will be joining with my colleagues to strike down this absurd proposal.”

The MTA, when the lawsuit was initially filed, defended the congestion toll program.

“The environmental review process for congestion pricing involved four years of consultation with government agencies, public outreach meetings, and engagement with tens of thousands of public comments, with hundreds of pages of painstaking detail released that considered impacts on traffic, air quality, and environmental justice across the metropolitan area,” a spokesman said last month..

“And if we really want to combat ever-worsening clogged streets we must adequately fund a public transit system that will bring safer and less congested streets, cleaner air, and better transit for the vast majority of students and teachers who take mass transit to school.”