FHWA charged with rubber stamping process
By Priscilla DeGregory — NY Post
July 21, 2023
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy filed a federal lawsuit Friday to block a contentious plan to impose the nation’s first congestion pricing toll system on some of Manhattan’s busiest streets.
The Garden State governor’s suit in New Jersey federal court claims the US Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration didn’t conduct a proper review of the toll’s impact on New Jersey drivers — claiming they’d be unfairly targeted.
“After refusing to conduct a full environmental review of the [Metropolitan Transit Authority’s] poorly designed tolling program, the FHWA has unlawfully fast-tracked the agency’s attempt to line its own coffers at the expense of New Jersey families,” Murphy said in a statement.
“The costs of standing idly by while the MTA uses New Jersey residents to help balance its budget sheets are more than economic.”
In a later interview with radio host John Catsimatidis, a defiant Murphy declared, “We have a couple of hundred thousand commuters going into Manhattan every day. We’re not some sort of fly speck here.”
“We’re not going to take it,” he vowed, adding: “we will not relent.”
“Jersey commuters,” he asserted, will not be “gouged.”
The suit charges the FHWA made the “decision to rubber-stamp” the review process that “inexplicably” found there would be “no significant impact on the human or natural environment,” the suit charges.
The review found the tolls imposed on streets south of 60th Street in Manhattan could reduce car traffic in the so-called central financial district by as much as 60%, though would likely result in more traffic in the outer boroughs and New Jersey.
According to the governor’s filing, the new toll system will divert traffic from Manhattan’s busy district and move it to New Jersey — which will not only bear the financial burden but increased pollution that’ll harm the environment and residents, especially in Bergen County, NJ.
And through the plan — figured to raise revenues for the MTA by $15 billion — is allotting $130 million to help mitigate the air quality impact on New York areas, it doesn’t set aside any money to help mitigate the potential impact on New Jersey, the suit alleges.
“There will be dramatic shifts in traffic patterns affecting hundreds of thousands of vehicles, as well as mass transit, throughout New Jersey. It is undeniable that the proposed action will cause significant environmental impacts on the region and beyond,” the court papers claim.
Murphy is asking a judge to issue injunctions invalidating the environmental impact reviews that were done — and force the agencies “to complete a full and proper” review of the impacts.
A spokesperson with the Federal Highway Administration said the agency “does not comment on pending litigation.”
Murphy lawyered up last month with pit bull attorneys Randy Mastro and Craig Capenito as he prepared to bring the lawsuit.
The governor has been a staunch opponent of the proposal — and even launching an ad campaign in May to try to lure New Yorkers to move to New Jersey in protest of the congestion pricing.
The MTA hasn’t set the price yet for what the toll will be — which was slated to go into effect as early as next spring. But it has said it could range from $9 to $23 per day to drive a car in the targeted central business district.
MTA spokesman John McCarthy said the suit is “baseless” and disputed the argument that the environmental review was insufficient.
The assessment “actually covered every conceivable potential traffic, air quality, social and economic effect, and also reviewed and responded to more than 80,000 comments and submissions,” McCarthy said.
He noted that there were six public hearings and 19 outreach sessions that gave New Jersey residents and officials plenty of time to give their input on the plan.
Additional reporting by Bernadette Hogan