TRENTON –The Murphy administration says NJ Transit fare hikes are possible if New York is allowed to proceed with current plans for congestion pricing tolls in Manhattan’s central business district.

In a Friday letter to the Federal Highway Administration, Gov. Phil Murphy said the environmental assessment done for the toll plan isn’t sufficient and a fuller environmental impact study is merited because of the “high degree of uncertainty and potential for significant impact.”

Such an analysis would likely delay the start date for the program, now targeted by the end of 2023.

Tolls from congestion pricing

“While New Jersey is conceptually open to traditional congestion pricing that makes traffic reduction its main goal, the program as proposed has revenue production as a primary goal,” Murphy wrote.

The details of the toll plan are still being developed but could include tolls as high as $23, depending whether toll credits are provided to drivers for the $16 cash toll or the $11.75 or $13.75 E-ZPass toll to cross the Hudson and Lincoln tunnels or George Washington Bridge.

“New Jersey roads will be impacted, our vulnerable communities exposed to more congestion and air quality issues, and our state services will be further strained,” Murphy wrote.

Why NJ Transit fares would increase

“New Jersey will be left with the difficult decision of considering fare hikes to accommodate these costs, which would be passed on to customers, many of them socioeconomically disadvantaged," Murphy wrote.

"Perversely, this may disincentivize transit use and would in fact increase vehicle miles traveled on the New Jersey side of the river, the exact opposite of one of the program's stated goals.”

MTA releases the Environmental Assessment for the Central Business Tolling District Program in a folder presented to representatives of the media at 2 Broadway. (Marc A. Hermann / MTA)
MTA releases the Environmental Assessment for the Central Business Tolling District Program in a folder presented to representatives of the media at 2 Broadway.
(Marc A. Hermann / MTA)
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NJ cites problems with congestion pricing plan

The letter also includes detailed critiques from the state Department of Transportation, NJ Transit and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. The main points:

— Not enough analysis was done of the impacts on New Jersey.

— The increased traffic could increase pollution in areas that already have high transportation emissions, especially as trucks try to avoid lower and central Manhattan. The traffic could even affect NJ Transit bus routes.

— If the change increases mass transit use, it’s not clear NJ Transit has the capacity to handle it, either on its trains and buses or in its parking lots – especially if the Hudson train tunnel and Port Authority Bus Terminal projects are happening simultaneously.

—  An increase in mass transit use could also reduce Turnpike toll revenue by $18 million a year. And if the toll plan charges a fee to commuter buses, as contemplated in some scenarios, that could cost NJ Transit $12 million to $25 million a year.

NJ Transit said one extremely rough estimate is that by 2045, the toll plan could lead the agency to need to add over 100,000 bus trips per year and over 4,700 train trips, increasing spending by millions of dollars a year.

And NJ Transit said capacity improvements at the bus terminal and New York Penn Station aren't expected for at least a decade.

Murphy noted New Jersey has no representation on the agencies, boards and New York Legislature that advanced the plan and had only six weeks to comment on the 4,005-page environmental assessment.

“While we share a goal of cleaner air and greater public transit investment, the burden must be paid by those who are able and willing, not by those who can least afford it, who have no alternatives, and who did not have a voice in the matter,” Murphy wrote.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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