Which NJ commuters will be affected by congestion pricing? What a new analysis found

Colleen Wilson

As outcry over the proposed congestion pricing program grows louder, a recent analysis by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that only a fraction of New Jersey-to-New York commuters would likely pay the additional tolls.

On average when comparing data from the 21 legislative districts analyzed, 1.6% of commuters drive from New Jersey into the lower Manhattan "Central Business District," whereas around 77% take public transportation, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011-2016 American Community Survey. The highest percentage of driving commuters was 3.6% in District 34, which includes Passaic and Essex counties. The lowest was 0.6% in District 21, which includes Union and Somerset counties.

"We crunched this data, and it revealed to us that there is more panic in the discussion than warranted in terms of impacts on New Jersey drivers," said Felicia Park-Rogers, director of regional infrastructure projects for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "Not to say that there is none — there will be some impact — but I think the impact will be less scary and less onerous than what is assumed."

The preliminary plan is to credit those tolled on the Lincoln and Holland tunnels to avoid double charges, but whether George Washington Bridge drivers will be credited will be up for debate when the traffic review board begins to hammer out the plan's details.

Tri-State's analysis also found that on average across the 21 New Jersey districts studied, people who commuted solo in their cars earned an average salary of $107,996. For public transit commuters, it was $88,407.

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Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began a series of public hearings as part of the review process to study the environmental effects of a proposal to charge drivers to enter streets at or below 60th Street in Manhattan (sans the FDR Drive, the West Side Highway and the areas near the Battery Park Underpass and Hugh Carey Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel). The goals of congestion pricing are to raise $15 billion for the MTA's capital program, reduce traffic and improve air quality with lowered vehicle emissions. A Traffic Mobility Review Board, which has not yet been formed, will prepare the proposal for congestion pricing, which must be approved by the MTA.

New Jersey residents had mixed reactions at last week's hearing.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who represents parts of Bergen, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties, vowed to "fight back" against the congestion charges.

"This is an attempt to mooch off of New Jersey," Gottheimer said. "I strongly urge you to withdraw this proposal and work together with us toward a more cooperative, better solution for everyone."

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Raphael Wakefield, a Jersey City resident, encouraged the congestion pricing planners to implement the program "without delay."

"Today the excessive traffic backs up through the Holland Tunnel and into Jersey City," Wakefield said. "The walking, riding and biking public has taken enough abuse."

Diana Fainberg, a New Jersey planner, said the Garden State deserves a seat at the table as the plan is being devised.

"What I would like to ask is that New Jersey be assigned a seat on the [TMRB] and be a full partner in evaluating and structuring the program," Fainberg said. "In addition, the environmental assessment should address the full range of potential social, economic and infrastructure impacts on New Jersey."

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Gov. Phil Murphy told the Morris County Chamber of Commerce at an event last week that he would consider canceling the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey minutes over this issue, which was first reported by Politico. By canceling the bi-state agency's meeting minutes — a power the governors of both states have — it could effectively prevent the agency from carrying out projects and other business.

"The governor will explore every possible avenue to prevent New Jerseyans from being double-tolled as a part of any congestion pricing scheme, including the governor’s oversight of Port Authority minutes," Murphy spokesman Michael Zhadanovsky said.

Gottheimer, Fainberg and others also lamented the fact that New Jersey would not receive any money from the congestion tolling program for its transit needs.

Renae Reynolds, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said that while it's unlikely some of the money could be redirected to New Jersey — since it is by law designed to go to the MTA — there could be room for negotiation on prioritizing projects that could most affect New Jersey commuters, including New York Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

"It’s really important for us to look at congestion pricing for the common public good that it can do and we can think about opportunities for negotiation and being good neighbors on both sides of the Hudson," Reynolds said.

The next hearing for New Jersey is today, Oct. 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. Register to speak online or by calling 646-252-6777.

Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. 

Email: cwilson2@gannettnj.com 

Twitter: @colleenallreds