Traffic passes under devices on the Upper West Side in...

Traffic passes under devices on the Upper West Side in Manhattan that would have been part of the congestion pricing infrastructure. Credit: Craig Ruttle

New York City’s comptroller said he’s assembling a coalition of congestion pricing advocates with the goal of “exploring all legal avenues” to combat Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision last week to shelve the MTA’s long-planned tolling plan.

Comptroller Brad Lander joined other congestion pricing supporters at a noon rally Wednesday outside the Municipal Building, where he said Hochul "took a disastrously wrong turn, so we're here today to steer our shared future back on track." He added: "The governor's sudden and potential illegal reversal wronged a host of New Yorkers, who have a right to what was long promised to all of New York — a world class mass transit system that works for everyone."

Michael Gerrard, a Columbia Law School professor who attended the rally noted the 2019 statute — passed by the legislature and signed by-then Gov. Andrew Cuomo — stated that the MTA "shall" implement congestion pricing. Failing to do so, Gerrard said, is a violation of the law and Hochul's duty to execute the law. Gerrard also cited laws relating to the environment and people with disabilities, as well as the violations of bondholder covenants.

Lander said potential plaintiffs include disabled riders for whom promised accessibility upgrades to the transit system are less likely to be delivered; residents of the congestion zone impacted by congestion, particularly those with respiratory problems and MTA board members who support congestion pricing; and bondholders.

It’s been a week since Hochul’s surprise announcement that she was ordering an "indefinite pause" on the MTA's Central Business District Tolling Program, which was set to take effect on June 30. The first-in-the-nation plan would have charged most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. Proponents said the policy would reduce traffic in Manhattan, improve air quality, and generate needed funding for transit investments.

Hochul's office didn't return a request for comment on Wednesday.

Reversing her past support for the effort, Hochul said she concluded that the new tolls would be overly burdensome for New Yorkers struggling with the cost of living, and could stall New York’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked about the potential for litigation that could seek to push through congestion pricing, MTA Chairman Janno Lieber, speaking at a Brooklyn news conference Wednesday, acknowledged that “there are a lot of people that are passionate” in their support for the measure, but said he was focusing on how to “retool, re-prioritize and shrink” the transit agency’s current $55 billion Capital Program, which was counting on toll revenues to support about $15 billion in infrastructure projects, including the Long Island Rail Road.

Lieber said he spent “three hours at three separate meetings” on Tuesday discussing possible changes to the capital budget, and mentioned subway signal modernization efforts on the A,C, and E lines, and on lines serving Herald Square, as among those “vulnerable” to cuts.

“There’s twenty-eight-and-a-half billion dollars of work left in this Capital Program, and we now have $13 billion to do it. So we have to make some hard choices,” Lieber said. “That’s what I’m spending my time on right now.”

New York City’s comptroller said he’s assembling a coalition of congestion pricing advocates with the goal of “exploring all legal avenues” to combat Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision last week to shelve the MTA’s long-planned tolling plan.

Comptroller Brad Lander joined other congestion pricing supporters at a noon rally Wednesday outside the Municipal Building, where he said Hochul "took a disastrously wrong turn, so we're here today to steer our shared future back on track." He added: "The governor's sudden and potential illegal reversal wronged a host of New Yorkers, who have a right to what was long promised to all of New York — a world class mass transit system that works for everyone."

Michael Gerrard, a Columbia Law School professor who attended the rally noted the 2019 statute — passed by the legislature and signed by-then Gov. Andrew Cuomo — stated that the MTA "shall" implement congestion pricing. Failing to do so, Gerrard said, is a violation of the law and Hochul's duty to execute the law. Gerrard also cited laws relating to the environment and people with disabilities, as well as the violations of bondholder covenants.

Lander said potential plaintiffs include disabled riders for whom promised accessibility upgrades to the transit system are less likely to be delivered; residents of the congestion zone impacted by congestion, particularly those with respiratory problems and MTA board members who support congestion pricing; and bondholders.

It’s been a week since Hochul’s surprise announcement that she was ordering an "indefinite pause" on the MTA's Central Business District Tolling Program, which was set to take effect on June 30. The first-in-the-nation plan would have charged most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. Proponents said the policy would reduce traffic in Manhattan, improve air quality, and generate needed funding for transit investments.

Hochul's office didn't return a request for comment on Wednesday.

Reversing her past support for the effort, Hochul said she concluded that the new tolls would be overly burdensome for New Yorkers struggling with the cost of living, and could stall New York’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked about the potential for litigation that could seek to push through congestion pricing, MTA Chairman Janno Lieber, speaking at a Brooklyn news conference Wednesday, acknowledged that “there are a lot of people that are passionate” in their support for the measure, but said he was focusing on how to “retool, re-prioritize and shrink” the transit agency’s current $55 billion Capital Program, which was counting on toll revenues to support about $15 billion in infrastructure projects, including the Long Island Rail Road.

Lieber said he spent “three hours at three separate meetings” on Tuesday discussing possible changes to the capital budget, and mentioned subway signal modernization efforts on the A,C, and E lines, and on lines serving Herald Square, as among those “vulnerable” to cuts.

“There’s twenty-eight-and-a-half billion dollars of work left in this Capital Program, and we now have $13 billion to do it. So we have to make some hard choices,” Lieber said. “That’s what I’m spending my time on right now.”

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