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New York Gov. Hochul announces "parameters of conceptual" budget deal, two weeks after deadline

Hudson Valley lawmakers join lawsuit in effort to block congestion pricing

A bipartisan delegation of Hudson Valley lawmakers have joined a federal lawsuit seeking to block the MTA's congestion pricing plan in New York City.
Provided - Valerie Best
From left to right: Assemblyman Chris Eachus, Assemblymember Aileen Gunther, State Senator James Skoufis, State Senator Rob Rolison

A bipartisan delegation of lawmakers in the Hudson Valley have joined a federal lawsuit seeking to block the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s congestion pricing plan in New York City.

The MTA plan would toll the average car driver $15 to enter lower Manhattan south of 60th Street, with higher tolls for trucks and smaller fees for motorcycles and those entering the district at night. The MTA says the plan would not only help it fund future infrastructure projects, but improve the quality of life in one of the busiest parts of New York City by encouraging people to leave their cars at home and use public transit.

Speaking at Harriman’s Metro-North Station, however, Democratic State Senator James Skoufis says commuters west of the Hudson River have few alternatives to reach lower Manhattan.

"We have very little train service here in Orange County. In fact, we don’t have a train into Manhattan. We have a train to Secaucus, and we have a train to Hoboken," Skoufis explains. "And then we’ve got to hop off and meander around and hop on a different train to get into Manhattan at Penn Station."

Staten Island Borough President Vito Fosella and members of the Untied Federation of Teachers filed the lawsuit in January, claiming the MTA plan is rushed and violates their constitutional rights. If it doesn’t block the plan entirely, the Hudson Valley delegation — which also includes State Senator Rob Rolison and Assemblymembers Aileen Gunther, Chris Eachus, Brian Maher, and Karl Brabenec — is calling for a toll exemption or crossing credit for Hudson Valley drivers.

In its planning for the toll, the MTA estimated that Orange and Rockland Counties contribute less than 2 percent of the 1.2 million commuters to the central business district. Some groups, including snowplows and emergency vehicles, have been exempted from the toll. Crossing credits have also been approved for drivers already paying to use some city bridges and the four tunnels into Manhattan — but the George Washington Bridge, which receives the heaviest amount of traffic and costs roughly $15 for E-ZPass holders, was notably left out.

Rolison, a Republican, says Orange and Rockland residents using the GWB would wind up paying double the price.

"To pay that kind of money before you even start your job...they gotta work their first two hours just to make up for what it costs for them to get in to work," Rolison theorizes. "We’re talking about individuals who are first responders, schoolteachers, and others that have to go there. We depend on them to do the things that need to be done in New York City."

Governor Kathy Hochul has strongly backed the toll. Advocates say it could help the environment and improve air quality in downtown Manhattan — but it won’t be effective if too many people are allowed to opt out.

MTA Chair Janno Lieber said last year that congestion pricing is responsible for about $15 billion of the transit authority’s five-year capital program that runs through the end of this year, and that delays in its implementation have already postponed a number MTA projects.

The Hudson Valley delegation rejects that argument. Skoufis says the COVID-19 pandemic has been the main contributor to project delays, pushing everything out by about two years. Assemblyman Eachus, a fellow Democrat, says Orange and Rockland Counties have been partially funding the MTA for decades, only to receive lackluster service.

"We’ve been supplying them, as mentioned by [Senator Skoufis], with the money to do the upgrades, and here in Orange County, Rockland County, we haven’t seen those upgrades," says Eachus. "And so we’re paying for nothing right now. Our residents are being taxed with absolutely nothing coming back to them."

In a statement, MTA Spokesman Aaron Donovan maintains Orange County and other suburban counties were exempted by the state when it increased payroll mobility taxes in New York City in 2022, and that the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines were left out of the past three fare increases for the Metro-North. He says the MTA allocated roughly $227 million to the lines in its latest capital plan.

The MTA expects to hold a final vote on the toll and implement it this spring. Democratic Congressman Pat Ryan of the 18th District is calling on the MTA to hold in-person public hearings in the Hudson Valley.

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Jesse King is the host of WAMC's national program on women's issues, "51%," and the station's bureau chief in the Hudson Valley. She has also produced episodes of the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."