New York City Was Supposed To Have Congestion Pricing in January. Federally Mandated Environmental Review Pushed the Start Date to 2023.
New York’s congestion pricing program has hit another bump in the road. On Friday, state transportation officials said that it’s going to take 16 months to conduct a federally mandated environmental review of their plan to charge a variable toll to drivers entering lower Manhattan.
“We are operating on an extraordinarily expedited and aggressive environmental review timeframe, yet one that will be painstakingly thorough,” said Janno Lieber, acting chair of the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), in a Friday press release.
That painstakingly thorough review, the MTA says, will include over 20 public meetings as part of its “robust public outreach” to “environmental justice” communities across the 22 million-person New York City metro area.
Following the completion of this environmental review, the MTA has said it will need another 310 days to set up the physical infrastructure needed to actually toll drivers. That means that New York won’t be implementing congestion pricing until 2023 at the earliest.
This is only the latest in a long series of delays for what is supposed to be the nation’s first congestion pricing program.
When the New York Legislature approved the program back in April 2019 with the intention of improving traffic flows in lower Manhattan while raising money for repairing the city’s aging subway system, the hope was to have everything up and running by January 2021.
Keeping congestion pricing in limbo has been the need for New York to get federal approval of the program, which has, in turn, triggered the awesome delaying power of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Federal law generally prohibits tolling of existing federal-aid highway lanes, something New York’s congestion pricing program would do. In order to get around that prohibition, New York needs to be accepted into the Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP) run by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which allows states to use tolls to reduce congestion.
Because FHWA bureaucrats’ signoff is required for New York to participate in that program, that triggers the dreaded NEPA.
NEPA requires federal agencies to prepare documents assessing the impact of their actions for any potential negative impacts they might have on the environment.
Because the law requires so many environmental impacts to be studied, and because it often requires multiple agencies to weigh in during the review process, NEPA documents can take years to put together.
In the case of New York’s congestion pricing program, the NEPA process will involve the FHWA, as well as the MTA, and the
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