Transportation Policy

Is Trump Deliberately Sandbagging New York's Landmark Transportation Policy?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) claims political motivations are delaying federal approval of a plan to charge drivers entering Manhattan a congestion fee.

|

New York's plan to impose a congestion toll on drivers entering the lower parts of Manhattan has hit a bump in the road, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) repeatedly claiming that federal officials are slow-walking needed approval of the policy.

"The federal approval, frankly, we just assumed it was going to be almost pro forma. They're now using that opportunity to stop congestion pricing," Cuomo told reporters on Monday, according to The New York Times.

The governor made the same claim last week according to the New York Post, saying in another press conference "Will [the Trump administration] hold congestion pricing hostage? Yes. That's how they do business."

New York's congestion pricing plan was passed in April 2019 as part of the state's budget. It would impose a toll on all drivers entering Manhattan streets below 60th Street, save for motorists who drive only on the island's West Side Highway or FDR Drive.

The plan requires that some 80 percent of the revenue from these congestion tolls be spent on the city's subway, with another 10 percent being dedicated to regional rail services.

The plan calls for having the tolls in place by January 2021, but there are still a number of details to be worked out, including how high congestion tolls should be, and who should get credits or exemptions.

That requires difficult political wrangling with powerful constituencies, from cops to truckers, who all have argued they deserve a carve-out. It also requires New York to get permission from the federal government.

Currently, there exists a general prohibition on states and localities adding tolls to roads that were funded in part by the federal government. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) does administer a couple of programs that make exceptions to this ban. That includes the Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP), through which the federal government can approve pilot congestion pricing programs to reduce congestion on existing roads.

Receiving authorization through VPPP also requires proposals to go through environmental reviews mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). How long that will take all depends on what level of NEPA review federal officials deem appropriate.

If New York were lucky, it would receive a categorical exemption from NEPA. More likely it will have to prepare an Environmental Assessment (an intermediate level of review) or worse, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Those run an average of 670 pages and can take years to complete.

Right now, the FHWA is in the middle of determining which level of NEPA New York's congestion pricing scheme requires. That determination will tell New York officials what information they'll have to prepare for the feds.

Officials with the New York City government and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)—the state agency that runs buses and trains in New York City—say they've been trying to get an answer from the feds about what kind of report they need to prepare since April 2019.

An FHWA spokesperson told Reason that the agency didn't receive the supplemental information it needed to make a NEPA determination until January 2020, and it's that delay, not Cuomo's claimed political interference, that's dictating the pace of federal review.

As recently as February 8, Cuomo told the Wall Street Journal that he wasn't concerned about the potential for the Trump administration to hold things up for political reasons.

The governor could be doing a lot more to speed things along in the face of federal delays, argues Manhattan Institute transportation scholar Nicole Gelinas, who wrote in the New York Post:

[Cuomo could] have directed the MTA to take a more aggressive posture. The MTA could have prepared a short "environmental assessment," hiring consultants to say the scheme will help the environment by discouraging people from driving. The MTA could start preparing the longer document, just in case. It requires public hearings, which are a pain, but the city completed its environmental-impact statement for its four-borough jails from start to finish in 14 months, meaning the MTA would be almost done now.

The fact that Cuomo hasn't done those things, says Gelinas, suggests that he's already gotten all the political mileage out of congestion pricing he can, and sees only liabilities in actually implementing the policy.

Cuomo risks pissing off motorists who will now have to pay for something they used to enjoy for free. This dynamic isn't made better by the specific design of New York's congestion pricing scheme, says Baruch Feigenbaum of the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason.

"I think the concern is that very little of the money from the congestion price is going to improve roadways," he said, adding that the proposed toll levels seem to have more to do with hitting revenue targets for funding transit than with easing congestion.

Feigenbaum notes that Trump isn't above petty retribution when it comes to New York, noting his administration's brazenly political decision to bar residents from that state from participating in Trusted Traveller programs that allow quicker passage through airport security.

Still, Feigenbaum says he hasn't seen any evidence that this is the case with congestion pricing. Indeed, Trump has proposed reforms that would speed up NEPA reviews of projects, and limit the use of EIS.

Congestion pricing as a concept has a lot to offer a place like New York City, says Feigenbaum. There's a lot of demand for driving on the roads, but very little space for adding new road capacity. As with most major reforms, it's the politics of implementation that are slowing things down.

Advertisement

NEXT: Elizabeth Warren Adopts Cory Booker’s Plan for a Better Presidential Clemency System

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Man, if only States had more authority and the Feds couldn’t get involved in the minutiae of operating a city.

    Nah, that would never work.

    1. The only reason the feds are involved is because the feds built the roads. If the states don’t want the feds involved, they should stop taking the feds’ money. Fuck New York. And fuck congestion pricing.

      1. “Fuck New York. And fuck congestion pricing.”

        This I agree with wholeheartedly, I was mostly poking fun at a statist like Cuomo whining about the Feds ruining his good time.

      2. Fuck New York?

        New York will win in America. The uneducated bigots, superstitious slack-jaws, right-wing malcontents, anti-social incels, and assorted other conservatives will lose in America.

        The clingers should remember this, because their betters will hold the cards over time and decide how the disaffected right-wingers (and their desolate backwaters) are to be treated during the medium and long terms.

        1. They hold the cards. Not the food.

        2. New York will win in America.

          Come on, coronavirus!

        3. Has your kind ever treated their opponents well? Why should I behave if you’re just gonna gulag me anyways?

          1. Opponents? When all is said and done, look at how they treat their supporters!

            1. you get a gulag! And you get a gulag! Gulags for everybody!

        4. New York can’t even afford to build its own roads.

        5. I’m from New York. The clingers live in 90% of the State that isn’t the pit of retardation called NYC. Feel free to visit. There are a lot of woods and forests. Lots of parks. Nobody would ever even know you are gone, Rev.

        6. New York is lparsecs ahead of Chicago.

      3. Then I’m confused by the article. Didn’t it mean they were putting tolls on the avenues as they went south of 60th Street? The avenues were built with local money, weren’t they?

        1. The article doesn’t make it entirely clear but I’m pretty sure the answer is no, they did not build and maintain those avenues entirely with local money.

      4. If the Feds would get their dirty hands off so much of our income I would be more sympathetic to this argument. But when the Feds take so much of our income in order to get involved in what should be state responsibilities, I don’t buy it. In essence the Feds have taken a huge chunk of New Yorker’s income (and every other state) and then turned around and said the state can’t get it back unless they manage a mostly local issue in the way the Feds want. In this instance I’m forced to side with New York, and that’s generally hard for me to do.

  2. The very definition of chutzpah when all of the environmental review bs was championed by Democrats. Fuck them.

    1. I say they should be given the kind of environmental review they demand for others with all the requisite delays and bad faith arguments to delay every page of paperwork.

  3. They call it congestion tolls. I call it price gouging!

    1. Pretty much. Lets take taxpayer money to build roads and then set up tolls that ensure only people rich enough to afford the tolls can use them.

      If you have money to burn, use the roads all you want. We will clear out all of the riff raff off them for you. They are just doing things like going to work and trying to make a living. Fuck them.

      1. “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”
        ― Thomas Sowell

        If there isn’t enough space on the roads for everyone who wants to drive them, then there will be rationing. Currently it’s in the form of traffic jams. People pay with their time. If this scheme actually works and results in less congestion, then people would pay with money instead of time. Either way people are going to pay.

        1. I thought use fees was the default libertarian answer to replace most taxation?

          But I guess since it’s New York Libruls trying to set up use fees, in this case they are bad.

          1. Guess you missed this part:

            Currently, there exists a general prohibition on states and localities adding tolls to roads that were funded in part by the federal government. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) does administer a couple of programs that make exceptions to this ban. That includes the Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP), through which the federal government can approve pilot congestion pricing programs to reduce congestion on existing roads.

            Receiving authorization through VPPP also requires proposals to go through environmental reviews mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). How long that will take all depends on what level of NEPA review federal officials deem appropriate.

            If Cuomo doesn’t want New York’s roads to be subject to federal government oversight, then I’m sure he’d be fine with removing them from receiving any federal funding for maintenance and construction.

          2. And yeah, Cuomo getting hoisted on his own Big Government petard is exactly what he and the people who proposed this deserve.

          3. The roads were built with tax money already dumbfuck. Taxpayers already paid for it. Now they want to implement a second diary use tax.

            If you weren’t so ignorant you would realize the use tax would be for maintenance or construction. This tax does neither.

            Didnt you even bother to try to understand the situation? Or even read the article?

            1. It’s a congestion tax. In theory it would lessen congestion by rationing the roads based upon willingness to pay with money instead of time. So there is an underlying libertarian economic argument here. Calling people stupid doesn’t refute that.

              1. No. There isnt. Use taxes have always been designed to compliment the item being taxed. This tax is not for that.

                You’re literally asking to create a form of a scarcity tax to benefit those who can afford it. You’re not asking to fund the item being taxed by those using it.

                I called him stupid because he called it a use tax. That is where he is stupid. And yet you defend him by arguing for a made up congestion tax, which is not a use tax. So this implies….

                I have actually never seen a libertarian argue for a form of scarcity tax where the item being taxed is unrelated to the object of the tax revenue. To be honest given your history, I still dont think I’ve seen that. Why dont you just argue for increasing income tax instead.

              2. Perhaps cutting down on de Blasio’s attempts to intentionally increase congestion should be tried.

        2. Sure, if the roads and maintenance were completely paid for by these fees. Hell, sell the roads to a private company! But, every driver is paying gas tax to build and maintain these roads already. If I pay for it, I should get to use it.

        3. That cannot be true. We’very been told repeatedly that freedom of movement is sacrosanct and any restriction is a human rights violation. Guess that all goes out the window when the consequences hit closer to home.

        4. If I’m going to drive south of 60th street maybe I’d rather spend time looking at all the shit in slow moving traffic than pay so that I could travel slightly faster on roads that have have been paid for, and continue to be maintained by, taxes and fees already payed by motorists like me.

          The “demand” side doesn’t seem to be willing to pay these new fees for the limited advantage of slightly lighter traffic.

          1. They already pay enough in tolls.

      2. I still remember meeting people in the dorm before freshman year and being completely baffled that they went to public schools, in NYC, that were entirely white and Asian. There can’t be a more hypocritical city on this planet.

    2. Or, you know, it’s supply and demand. There’s only so much road, why is it different than any other limited resource? Because it makes your commute suck?

      John raised a valid point above, we already paid for the road via taxation so this is double-dipping, but if a privately built road implemented this it would just be the market at work. The idea itself is fine, using it on a road you’ve already paid for isn’t.

      1. I mean, I get it, but it’s not like once you build a road, that’s it. That’s how suburbs get screwed: the developer says “I’ll build these roads for you, then give them to you!”, at which point the suburb just got handed tens of thousands of miles of roads that they now need to maintain.
        If the toll actually went to maintaining the existing roads, or build superduper expensive tunnels or overpasses to increase lanes, I’d buy it as a libertarian-friendly user fee. But, since tax payer money is already going to maintain these roads, it means that people who are currently paying gas taxes to fund said roads won’t be able to use them if they can’t afford the extra fee.
        If I don’t want to pay tolls on E-470, then I don’t have to use it. I didn’t pay for it, it’s not mine, and if the people who did pay for want a few bucks to use it, that’s their right.
        But if, then, Aurora or the the state decided to put a toll on Parker Rd (CO 83-85?), which I’ve already paid for, and pay for every time I fuel up, then essentially one group of people is forcing everyone else to fund a perk for one subset of the population- those who can afford the toll- at taxpayer expense, a decidedly un-libertarian proposal.

      2. Without eminent domain private roads over a few miles will never be possible anywhere near NYC or pretty much anywhere else for that matter. Libertarians need to get over the idea that roads can somehow be a free market enterprise in any significant way. Roads are a government monopoly and even if they are sold or leased, as Indiana did for a while with their tollway, they continue to be monopolies because no competitor can enter the market. Charging a fee to use a road you’ve already paid for is not libertarian. It’s a straightforward cash grab.

  4. A bureaucracy trying to deal with a bigger bureaucracy. Now they know how ordinary people feel but they won’t learn and clearly this has little to do with Trump but I wouldn’t blame him for slowing the process but he probably doesn’t even know what they are doing

    1. Well, you know, the president doesn’t really have much to do. I’ll bet thousands of federal bueracrats are on vacation on any given day, and Mr. Trump, being quite bored, just jumps in to help.
      This particular decision, to delay the project, was made by Trump when he was filling in for Mary, whose husband took the family skiing as a surprise.

  5. Nothing is pro forma when it comes to government permission. Especially when the government you want permission from is pissed at you.

  6. I’m all for tolls where the money goes for the upkeep of those specific roads. I don’t support them one bit when it’s being used to subsidize subway and regional rail political graft.

    Raise the fees for the subway and rail.

    1. No, no, they want the subways to be free (or at least for the cops to quit stopping turnstile jumpers).

  7. So a big government politician is upset that big government bureaucracy is inefficient. Hmmm, color me unsympathetic.

  8. This sounds like a VERY regressive tax scheme to suppress the poor and enable the filthy rich cronies pf the mayor.

    And, oh by the way –
    brazenly political decision = equal treatment of all states that refuse to share data in their DMV databases.
    Are you really using the NYT as a source?

    1. This is the same party that wants to tax blue collar folks to wipe out college debt of rich gentry libs. Regressive taxation is their thing

  9. “The plan requires that some 80 percent of the revenue from these congestion tolls be spent on the city’s subway, with another 10 percent being dedicated to regional rail services.”

    Then raise fares on the subway and fees on regional rail services. Problem solved.

    Do I have to think of everything?

    1. I thought the city was having serious problems with jumpers not paying subway fees. This could be in response to that.

      1. They have serious problems with the homeless too. It doesn’t mean highway use fees should be diverted to homeless shelters.

        1. Great counter to an argument nobody made. I was posing a possible rationalization, not defending it. Or are you one of those who can’t accept the possibility of seeing another point of view without agreeing with it? If so that’s OK. The world is full of close-minded people.

          1. So you dodnt say this?

            “I thought the city was having serious problems with jumpers not paying subway fees.”

            Okay.

          2. You are really bad at logic by the way.

            1. Do you consider yourself to be open minded? Seems to me you pride yourself in shutting out ideas. Maybe I’m wrong.

              But saying I’m bad at logic is a pretty desperate attempt at gaslighting. I’d expect it from Tulpa. From you? I’m disappointed. My opinion of you just dropped significantly.

      2. You’d think the response to that would be to better enforce jumping and not paying subway fees.

      3. “I thought the city was having serious problems with jumpers not paying subway fees. This could be in response to that.”

        Stores have problems with shoplifters. The wrong response is to raise taxes on people who don’t shop there.

      4. Or, they could start arresting or citing the jumpers, like in a civilized society

        1. And lose the black vote? No chance.

  10. Is Trump Deliberately Sandbagging New York’s Landmark Transportation Policy?

    Or is the federal government just too damn big to get anything done?
    Let me think that one over for a minute.
    *thinks*
    Well, Trump has not directed the EPA to demand a stop to all traffic in Manhattan because rainwater puddles in the streets, and there is no mitigation plan in place to assure that pigeons have alternative places to drink, so it could be worse.

    1. Is Trump Deliberately Sandbagging New York’s Landmark Transportation Policy?

      Or is the federal government just too damn big to get anything done?

      I choose door number two.

      1. I’ll take all of the above.

  11. Wait, the government is dragging its feet on another government’s ability to fleece its citizens through the permit and environmental review process? Get fucking stuffed, Cuomo. Live by the regulatory state, starve to death slowly by the regulatory state.

  12. Currently, there exists a general prohibition on states and localities adding tolls to roads that were funded in part by the federal government.

    Eh, live by the Federal handout, die by the Federal handout.

    Cuomo (and others) might want to consider this next time they’re asking the government (at any level) to ‘do something’.

  13. My taxes built the roads, so now I have to pay to use them.

    Yeah. Right.

  14. New York wants to hand out IDs to any swinging Ricardo illegal alien, and yet expects to partake in a “trusted traveler” program, and that is Orange Man Bad?

  15. Yes, NYC does have a congestion problem and it would be nice to think they could cut through the bullshit red tape and get a project going some time this century.

    But then NYC also has a housing shortage and it would be nice to think the city would cut real estate developers some slack in getting approval for their plans to build more housing expedited, too. Maybe Cuomo should be grateful nobody’s trying to get the road declared an historical property. Yet.

  16. reason never met a toll they didn’t love.

    1. Well tolls are the invisible hand slapping you upside the head.

  17. .I earned $5000 last month by working online just for 5 to 8 hours on my laptop and this was so easy that i myself could not believe before working on this site. If You too want to earn such a big money then come and join us….. Click it here  

  18. Aw, the poor little autocrats are frustrated by being made to jump through the same kind of bureaucratic hoops and delays that they love to heap on the rest of us. Color me …

    utterly unsympathetic.

  19. Hey Christian Britshit, you understand that this is supposedly a Libertarian magazine, yeah? That Libertarians don’t support taxes, especially taxes like this that are nothing more than shameless cash grabs. Take a flying leap off the empire state building you statist fuck.

    1. and just to cut the trolls off at the pass, if it was a toll it would be using the money to maintain the road tolled. It isn’t. It would be pumped into other projects like the subway and rail, so it’s a tax.

  20. Forcing drivers to pay for subways is like forcing Jews to finance mosques. Yup. Sounds like a plan. Carry on….

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.