From: Michael Gormley, Associated Press
Published July 20, 2007 12:00 AM

Commission Will Give NYC Congestion Pricing Plan a Second Look

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A state commission will consider whether Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to charge a toll on some commuters to reduce traffic and pollution in New York City should ultimately take effect, according to a deal reached Thursday.


The agreement among Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and legislative leaders gives the so-called "congestion pricing" plan a second life three days after it appeared dead.


It also will keep the mayor's proposal in the running to compete with nine other cities in a national pilot program for traffic-reducing projects that could trigger the release of $500 million in federal funding for mass transportation, legislators said.


Under the deal, the state committed to taking steps to reduce pollution and traffic. But Bloomberg's proposal to levy tolls on some commuters will be taken up by a commission, and the Legislature will ultimately have until March 31 to consider its recommendations.


The commission won't be required to include tolls in its final recommendations, but any alternative would have to hit the same traffic-reduction targets in Bloomberg's original plan and be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Bloomberg staffers in Albany said they are confident that only tolls will reach the same goals and satisfy Washington.


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"We will continue to work together to access the federal funds that are available. Certainly there will be discussion of the details of various components of our plan, but together we have made a commitment to a greener, healthier and more livable New York," Bloomberg said in a statement.


Bloomberg's proposal, similar to systems in London and Singapore, calls for an $8 toll for cars and a $21 toll for trucks entering Manhattan's most heavily traveled business district during workdays. The money would pay for transportation improvements.


Bloomberg believes congestion pricing would improve air quality by forcing more people onto mass transit, thereby reducing traffic.


Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has questioned the need for tolls and pushed for the commission, said that although a deal has been reached, "the debate and the negotiations have just begun."


Bloomberg had resisted attempts to create a commission, saying that it was too weak a commitment and the transportation department would not give money to simply study the concept of congestion pricing.


The turning point, Bloomberg aides said, came when his administration won a formula for appointing people to the 17-member group that allows more members who support congestion pricing. Therefore, the city can assure federal officials the tolls will eventually be approved.


Bloomberg had initially said a decision had to be made by Monday so the city would meet a federal deadline for the pilot program. But Thursday, a spokesman for the mayor said the administration was in touch with federal officials as the deal was reached.


"They have an understanding of where we are," spokesman Stu Loeser said.


Bruno said the transportation department agreed that as long as the letter and draft legislation is sent to Washington Thursday, New York will be among the finalists for the federal pilot program to reduce congestion that could bring millions in federal funds to New York.


Sarah Echols, a federal transportation department spokeswoman, did not return calls Thursday. The agency has refused all week to answer any questions regarding the debate in New York.


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Associated Press writers Sara Kugler in New York City and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.


Source: Associated Press


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