New Jersey sues federal highway officials in bid to stop New York City’s plan to charge big tolls

The suit filed Friday argues that New Jersey residents and towns will bear the brunt of the higher tolls while receiving little benefit

Lincoln Tunnel
People drive vehicles in and out of the Lincoln Tunnel, coming and going between midtown Manhattan in New York City and New Jersey, in Weehawken, New Jersey, on Friday, May 12, 2023.Ted Shaffrey (AP)

New Jersey has filed a federal lawsuit aimed at stopping New York’s plan to charge big tolls to drive into the most visited parts of Manhattan, arguing that New Jersey residents and towns will bear the brunt without benefiting.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced his state’s plans on Friday. The lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration claims the agency’s approval of the plan last month was “misguided” and violates the National Environmental Policy Act. New Jersey also wants a more comprehensive environmental study conducted for the plan.

New York officials have said the first-in-the-nation plan is part of an effort to reduce traffic, to improve air quality and to raise funds for the city’s public transit system. Murphy, though, said commuters headed in to the city will instead find different ways to avoid paying higher tolls, resulting in more traffic and more pollution.

“(The FHA) finding that the MTA congestion pricing program will not have any significant impacts is an error,” Murphy, said. The Democratic governor also called the tolls “anti-environmental, anti-commuter, and anti-business.”

The federal Department of Transportation declined to comment on the lawsuit, but the MTA called it “baseless.”

John J. McCarthy, the MTA’s external relations chief, said the 4,000-page Environmental Assessment performed by the MTA, New York State DOT and New York City DOT “was supervised at every stage and specifically approved by the Biden administration.” The MTA statement also said the review covered “every conceivable potential traffic, air quality, social and economic effect,” and responded to more than 80,000 comments and submissions.

People headed into Manhattan already pay big tolls to use many of the bridges and tunnels connecting commuters across the Hudson, East and Harlem Rivers. The special tolls for the southern half of Manhattan would come on top of those existing charges. Taxi and car service drivers have objected to the plan, saying it would make fares unaffordable.

The new tolls are expected to generate another $1 billion yearly, which would be used to finance upgrading the subway, bus and commuter rail systems operated by the MTA.

The state Legislature approved a conceptual plan for congestion pricing back in 2019, but the coronavirus pandemic combined with a lack of guidance from federal regulators stalled the project.

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