Congestion pricing devices installed above traffic in Manhattan, and inset,...

Congestion pricing devices installed above traffic in Manhattan, and inset, an LIRR train approaches the Jamaica station. The pause on congestion pricing damages efforts to reduce air pollution, and fund the LIRR's current and future plans. Credit: Bloomberg / Jeenah Moon, Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Gov. Kathy Hochul's decision to “pause” the tolling of Manhattan's central business district just weeks before it was to begin will ripple through the region and across Long Island in ways large and small. Its repercussions most likely will be felt on the environment, public transit and the economy.

Many elected officials and other advocates are seeking solutions that might encourage or even require Hochul to change her mind. That seems unlikely for now, though Hochul has given the impression that this is only a pause and the tolling could return. But under what conditions?

Does Hochul have any metrics on the economy or New York City commercial real estate that have to be met before a congestion pricing reboot? Could the toll be reduced and combined with other sources of revenue to help the Metropolitan Transportation Authority? After years of analysis and careful planning, Hochul's decision and her ensuing comments don't address these kinds of questions. She must provide a more specific path forward.

As uncertainty percolates, some of the fallout is clear and disturbing — for the environment, for public transportation, and for the region.

The pause certainly will damage the region's efforts to improve air quality and fight pollution in Manhattan and beyond. In fact, conditions could continue to worsen; reduced investments in public transit could encourage more people to drive into Manhattan, increasing traffic and pollution.

LIRR TAKES A HIT

No revenue from congestion pricing also means the end of many current and future plans for improving or expanding the Long Island Rail Road. As the LIRR remains a critical engine for the region's economy and its connections to New York City, the impact could be significant.

Many local elected officials who support Hochul's decision also are seeking public transportation upgrades. But as they applaud the end of congestion pricing, they're also signaling reduced attention to public transit, including some of their favorite projects. 

Hochul and the State Legislature could find money from other sources, which would cushion the blow. But by issuing bonds against the expected revenue, congestion pricing was expected to generate $15 billion for the current MTA capital plan; it won't be easy to fill that gap. That five-year plan, which began in 2019 with $55 billion, has $28 billion in remaining work to be contracted, according to MTA officials. Without the additional $15 billion, the MTA has just $13 billion to use. Officials say that likely isn't enough for the authority to keep up with so-called state-of-good-repair projects — necessary efforts to maintain the system so it doesn't deteriorate. It certainly won't be enough to do much, if anything, new. And it could devastate the next five-year capital plan, which will run from 2025 to 2029. 

With 10% of congestion pricing funds earmarked for the LIRR, cuts would be significant — with real impact for the railroad and its riders.

The lack of funding could put the planned remake of the Babylon station and platform at risk. It could halt accessibility upgrades to nine LIRR stations, from Massapequa Park to Copiague, and short-circuit planned elevator or escalator replacements at stations like Valley Stream. It could delay structural improvements on the Main Line, the Montauk branch, and the Port Jefferson line.

The lack of Manhattan toll money puts the critical rehabilitation of the East River tunnels, and improvements to Harold Interlocking — an important series of switches and interlockings in Sunnyside, Queens — at significant risk. Without those upgrades, the LIRR is more susceptible to slowdowns and stoppages, and service could falter. There also will be cutbacks for city subways and buses, which many Long Islanders use regularly.

END TO GRAND PLANS

Grander, forward-looking efforts would have to be scrapped. Say farewell, for example, to big plans for a new Penn Station, which Hochul has touted. Moving the Yaphank station closer to Brookhaven National Laboratory would have been an important step for the region's research corridor. But with a contract not finalized, it's likely stopped in its tracks. The new train yard at the Lawrence Aviation site probably is derailed, too.

As for ever-elusive visions of electrifying the East End and Oyster Bay lines, those dreams are over.

Coping with this diminished future means all hands on deck at the MTA. Chairman and chief executive Janno Lieber has enlisted the authority's deputy chief development officer, Tim Mulligan, to assess potential capital plan shrinkage. The MTA has to determine whether, and how, it can continue planned accessibility work, since it's required under federal legal settlements. Former MTA chief Thomas Prendergast will help determine which maintenance projects should get priority. Meanwhile, the MTA should tighten its own belt wherever possible to show congestion pricing wasn't just a money grab, as critics saw it.

Hochul cannot leave the region hanging after making such a consequential move. She must address the traffic, pollution, air quality and other environmental repercussions. And she must provide a clearer road map for the future of congestion pricing, the MTA, and the region.

Decisions must be made but Hochul has left the MTA with a menu of bad options. Whatever the choices, the riders will lose.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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