Julie Tighe: Murphy Is Wrong; Congestion Pricing Helps NJ

This op-ed appeared in the New York Daily News on January 26, 2024.

Ask anyone who has tried to drive cross town this week. New York has the worst traffic in the country. Approximately 900,000 people slog out a bumper-to-bumper drive to Manhattan’s central business district every day despite living in the most transit-rich community in America.

The solutions on either side of the Hudson lie in stark contrast.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy wants to add more lanes leading up to the Holland Tunnel which as anyone who has followed the work of Robert Moses knows will only create more traffic, while NJTransit struggles with massive budget problems and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail sits unfinished.

Across the river in the center of the mass transit-riding universe, Gov. Hochul is investing in mass transit, including through congestion pricing, to make it easier and better for commuters on rail, bus, and subway throughout the region to get out of their gas-guzzling cars and cut gridlock for those who must travel by car and truck. Murphy’s contribution to this visionary plan is to sue to stop it, despite the tens of thousands of New Jerseyans who use the MTA every day,

Study after study has found that congestion pricing is the most effective tool for relieving this daily headache and making public transit a more viable alternative, while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the filthy air pollution that results from too many cars in not enough space.

Let’s be clear — we cannot drive our way out of the climate crisis. Vehicle traffic is the second-highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, contributing nearly a third of total emissions.

The future of our public transit system is relying on congestion pricing, as it will provide critical funding for the cash-strapped MTA, enough to support $15 billion of investments in much-needed infrastructure projects.

That means extending the Second Ave. subway, upgrading signals to make trains faster and more reliable, adding elevators to make more stations accessible for people with disabilities and strollers, and other capital improvements that will improve the commute for millions of current riders and encourage more people to ditch their cars in favor of mass transit.

Congestion pricing is also a public health necessity. Two million New Yorkers live or work near a congested roadway, and one in 10 children have asthma — as do an appalling one quarter of children who live in low-income communities and communities of color in the city. Asthma is not only an acute health issue, it is the leading cause of school absences.

Studies show that congestion pricing reduces traffic and cuts pollution. In London, traffic decreased by 15% and emissions decreased by nearly 20%. In Stockholm, traffic decreased by 22% — and asthma rates dropped by a whopping 50%!

So it was with great excitement that last June, after years of leadership on this issue from Hochul and New York’s congressional delegation, the federal government granted final approval for this climate-friendly policy.

Once the TMRB’s recommendations have been implemented by the MTA, congestion pricing will cost drivers who enter the city’s central business district $15 during the day — enough to encourage someone to take the train or a toll-exempt bus instead and to incentivize trucks to make overnight deliveries when traffic has eased and the toll is 75% lower.

Unfortunately, Murphy, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and other politicians are attempting to snatch defeat from the jaws of a major environmental victory by following the desperate path of litigation. It’s not lost on us that New Jersey’s first lawsuit came on the heels of NJT reporting a nearly $1 billion annual budget shortfall expected by 2026. If anyone understands the need for finding a dedicated funding stream for mass transit, it should be Murphy.

Unfounded lawsuits won’t improve air quality or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and they certainly won’t improve the daily ride for the millions of commuters into Manhattan. What will do all of those things — including for the more than 423,000 New Jersey residents who cross the Hudson every day — is congestion pricing. (And if you buy into Murphy’s logic that New York shouldn’t toll Jersey drivers, then New Yorkers shouldn’t have to pay tolls on the Turnpike.)

It’s time to work in unison to implement congestion pricing and tackle climate change across the region. But New Jersey’s misguided lawsuits will only serve to perpetuate the fossil-fuel-powered car culture and greenhouse gas emissions that are driving the climate crisis.

It’s time for New Jersey to get on the bus and withdraw its frivolous lawsuits trying to stop congestion pricing. Instead, our friends across the Hudson can join with New York in its effort to combat climate change.

01.26.24 // AUTHOR: admin //