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New York transit tolls back in play

A commission will review Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan.

July 20, 2007|Melissa Mansfield | Newsday

ALBANY, N.Y. — State and city leaders Thursday struck a deal that resuscitates New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's proposal to use tolls to mitigate traffic gridlock and air pollution.

The agreement, short on specifics, creates a commission to review the mayor's proposed legislation and apparently keeps New York City in the running for up to $500 million in federal grants, officials said.

"This agreement makes clear that delay was unacceptable, and the need to protect our environment and fight congestion simply could not wait," Bloomberg said. The deal is part of a broader agreement that includes restrictions on campaign donations.

The congestion pricing deal is a partial victory for the mayor, who had all but thrown in the towel this week after Albany failed to approve his plan and the city missed a "drop dead" deadline to be eligible for the federal funding he believes is needed for starter costs and mass transit improvements to make congestion pricing work.

State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said Thursday that the U.S. Transportation Department, where officials have been mum all week, agreed to honor the city's eligibility to compete for grants as long as a draft of the bill was sent to Washington on Thursday.

If the city does not get at least $250 million in federal money, the project will not go forward, the bill states.

The 17-member New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission is charged with submitting its preferred plan to Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the Legislature by Jan. 31.

Bloomberg's proposal, similar to systems in London and Singapore, calls for an $8 toll for cars and a $21 toll for trucks entering Manhattan's most heavily traveled business district during workdays. The money would pay for transportation improvements.

Bloomberg believes congestion pricing would improve air quality by forcing more people onto mass transit, thereby reducing traffic.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has questioned the need for tolls and pushed for the commission, said that although a deal had been reached, "the debate and the negotiations have just begun."

Lawmakers will have two months to vote on the commission's recommendations. Spitzer, legislative leaders, the mayor and the City Council will appoint commission members, who will study how to fight congestion and whether Bloomberg's tolls are appropriate.

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