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OpinionColumnistsRandi F. Marshall

NYC's congestion pricing plan looking more likely

As of Monday afternoon, there is a tentative optimism that congestion pricing could get done.

Supporters of congestion pricing -- advocates and transit

Supporters of congestion pricing -- advocates and transit union representatives -- crashed a news conference on Sunday where politicians spoke against the policy. Photo Credit: Vincent Barone

After almost a decade of talk about tolling Manhattan’s central business district, congestion pricing advocates are nearly at the finish line.

But they’re not there yet, as any veteran of the final hours of Albany budget negotiations can tell you.

Sources told The Point Monday that more of the uncertainty lies in the State Assembly. Of the 107 members of the chamber’s Democratic majority, 52 are definite yeses, while 23 are leaning yes, according to advocates’ latest tally. That total — 75 — is one away from the magic number of 76 the majority needs to pass a congestion pricing plan. But “that could fluctuate,” one advocate told The Point. Of the rest, fewer than 10 are definitive no votes.

And it looks like that math might work itself out. Monday afternoon, Speaker Carl Heastie said the Assembly was “ready to go forward on congestion pricing,” even with details still to be finalized.

In the State Senate, there may be an even clearer path. Of the 39 Senate Democrats, 35 are either a definitive yes, or leaning toward yes. That gives congestion pricing advocates a tiny cushion — since they need 32 yeses to push them over the finish line.

Sources told The Point it’s likely an agreement will be reached to make sure some of the congestion pricing revenue goes to commuter rails — a move that would help Westchester and Long Island lawmakers get behind the plan.

Sticking points remain. Some are specific — as certain lawmakers fight for a new bus route or parking garage, or some other perk. Others are more general. Among the big topics: the possibility of discounting Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road fares for New York City residents who live in subway deserts that are served by a commuter rail, and the fight over whether drivers who take bridges outside of the congestion zone should have to pay twice — once over the bridge, and once when they enter the zone. Some seek additional accessibility promises, not only for subway stations but also for commuter rail stops.

Some questions have been answered. A source told The Point that the Capital Plan Review Board will remain in place, with its current system of one veto being able to sink a capital plan. But a provision will be added to force a member of the board who votes no to explain his or her decision in writing — and to give an opportunity for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to respond.

Advocates headed to Albany Monday to make the final push. The Partnership for New York City, for instance, released a new analysis trying to show how an investment in the MTA’s capital needs would provide a boost to the state’s economy. It specifically noted that Long Island would gain $3 billion in economic activity and nearly 6,000 jobs, perhaps an effort to show local lawmakers how a “no” vote could hurt the region’s economy.

But as of Monday afternoon, there is a tentative optimism that congestion pricing could get done.

“The only way this could fall apart is if people start getting very parochial — where they say it’s about my project or my need,” one state official told The Point.

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