August 14, 2007
U.S. Allocates $354 Million to Reduce New York Traffic
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR and WILLIAM NEUMAN
The United States Department of Transportation announced today that it has allocated $354 million to help Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg finance his plan to reduce traffic in Manhattan by charging tolls to drivers entering the busiest parts of the borough.
The announcement, by Mary E. Peters, the secretary of transportation, is a major lift for the mayor, and is likely to increase pressure on legislative leaders who have balked at the plan to let the city move forward. Ms. Peters said that the city would receive $1.6 million initially, but that the State Legislature must assent to the plan within 90 days of convening — roughly by the end of March 2008 —before the city can receive the balance.
“If the city does not have the legal authority to move forward at that time, it will not receive the money,” Ms. Peters said.
The State Legislature has created a 17-member commission that it asked to evaluate the mayor’s congestion pricing plan and make recommendations. The $354 million that the federal government has allocated falls short of the $536 million that Mr. Bloomberg requested, but exceeds the $200 million that the Legislature set as a minimum commitment from the federal government for its commission to proceed.
Ms. Peters said that so long as the commission approves a traffic plan that meets the same “performance objectives” as the mayor’s original plan, the city would receive the balance of the money. At a news conference this morning, Ms. Peters said that the federal government supported Mayor Bloomberg’s plan because it was “as brass and bold as New York City itself.”
“The average New York commuter now spends 49 hours stuck in traffic every year, up from 18 hours in 1982,” she said. “While some may be content to accept growing gridlock as a way of life, Mayor Bloomberg is not going to let traffic rob the Big Apple.
“New Yorkers,” she added, “must understand that we must stop relying on yesterday’s ideas to fight today’s traffic jams.”
A spokesman for the mayor, Stu Loeser, did not immediately respond to a request for comment this morning.
A total of 26 cities across the country — including Seattle, Dallas, Denver and Miami — submitted proposals to the federal government for money to implement traffic reduction measures. Ms. Peters said that New York City and Seattle were two of five that had been chosen, but declined to name the three others until later today.
Seattle received $138 million in federal support for its proposal to charge tolls to drivers on its new State Highway 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, a plan that city officials say will help reduce traffic.
Mayor Bloomberg’s plan was first aired in April as part of a package of proposals meant to guide New York City’s growth in an environmentally sensitive way over the next two decades. The plan proposes to charge drivers $8 and trucks $21 a day to enter or leave Manhattan below 86th Street on weekdays during the workday. Those who drive only within the congestion zone would pay $4 a day for cars and $5.50 for trucks.
The congestion charging plan is designed not only to cut traffic, but to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue that could be used to help pay for large-scale transportation projects.
The traffic plan drew opposition from politicians in the four other boroughs and the suburbs, which are home to many people who regularly drive into Manhattan.
In a last-minute compromise in July, days after what the city called a federal deadline for a plan, a special session of the State Legislature agreed to create the 17-member commission to study the mayor’s plan. Many of the 17 members would be chosen by Mr. Bloomberg, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and other officials who have supported the proposal.
The commission would make a recommendation by Jan. 31, and after that the plan would have to be approved by the City Council and the Legislature by March 31.
In submitting an application for federal financing to the Transportation Department, the Bloomberg administration indicated that it would need some of the money to set up a high-tech system to administer the congestion charging program.
E-ZPass readers would charge a majority of drivers for travel in the zone. For vehicles without E-ZPass, a system of cameras around Manhattan would photograph license plates. Drivers would be expected to submit payments to the city.
Some of the federal money also may go to support improvements to the mass transit system, like expanded bus service to accommodate drivers who might switch to public transportation.
Under the compromise worked out in July, the new commission must study a variety of traffic-cutting options before coming up with its recommendation.