Murphy woos New Yorkers over congestion pricing plan

(The Center Square) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has launched an advertising campaign pushing back against New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s congestion pricing plan by trying to woo New Yorkers to relocate to his state.

The taxpayer-funded ad blitz by Choose NJ, the state’s nonprofit economic development agency, got underway Monday and features digital billboard ads at “key locations” along highways targeting motorists entering and leaving Manhattan, the Murphy administration said.

The ads highlight New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority’s plans to begin charging some motorists a fee ranging from $9 to $23 to drive into Manhattan’s central business district, urging New Yorkers to consider relocating to the Garden State to avoid the higher tolls.

“PAY A CONGESTION TAX TO SIT IN NYC TRAFFIC? GET OUTTA HERE! Move your business to New Jersey,” one of the ads reads.

Murphy, who opposes the congestion pricing plan, said it is “unfair for North Jersey commuters who already pay so much in tolls and fees.” But he also sees opportunity in the wrangling over congestion tolling.

“It presents an opportunity for us to stress the value proposition of New Jersey for New York City residents and businesses alike: an ideal location, talented pool of workers, less congestion, and, most importantly, no congestion tax,” the Democrat said in a statement.

Under the new congestion pricing plan, the average round trip cost for motorists coming from New Jersey into the Manhattan district would be $120 per vehicle with the additional toll, according to a recent MTA report.

The state agency estimates the new fee will bring in $1 billion annually that will be used as leverage to borrow more money for its $51 billion multi-year capital plan. The MTA, which operates the state’s public transit system, faces a potential $2.6 billion budget deficit in 2025 and is on the hunt for money to reduce projected shortfalls.

Despite the opposition to the project, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a “letter of legal sufficiency” earlier this month, essentially giving it the green light to proceed.

Hochul has defended the new policy, approved by the state Legislature in 2019, saying it will help reduce the region’s traffic congestion and blunt the impact of climate change by reducing tailpipe pollution. Last week, she praised the release of a final environmental review of the project.

“This is a significant milestone, bringing us closer to a future where New Yorkers have cleaner air, better public transit and less traffic clogging our streets,” Hochul said in a statement. “This program is critical to New York City’s long-term success, ensuring our commuters and businesses are able to grow and thrive.”

The MTA has also announced concessions to ease criticism of the plan, including a 25% discount for low-income commuters, or those making $50,000 annually, on-peak and off-peak tolls if they make at least 10 trips to the zone.

Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the Hudson River have raised concerns about the project and the impact on commuters who travel to NYC for work.

On Monday, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, filed a bill that would impose federal highway sanctions against New York state if it moves ahead with the plans and requires approval from New Jersey and other states. He said the proposal, called the “STOP NJ CONGESTION Act,” seeks to incentivize New York to abandon the project.

“This would guarantee New Jersey a seat at the table for future proposals, something we should have had all along,” Menendez said Monday. “My bill slams the brakes on this awful congestion pricing plan. I’ll say it again, this congestion pricing plan is a no-win for our state.”

Another proposal, filed by New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., would prohibit the federal government from awarding capital investment grants to MTA projects in New York unless drivers in New Jersey and New York get an exemption from the congestion tax.

The Federal Highway Administration is expected to make its final decision on the project following a 30-day public comment on the environmental review.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Monday, Menendez urges federal officials to reject New York’s congestion pricing plan.

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