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Judge plans June ruling in NJ congestion pricing suit — just as MTA tolls to start

Congestion pricing toll readers on Park Ave. in Manhattan.
Congestion pricing toll readers on Park Ave. in Manhattan.

The federal judge presiding over New Jersey’s congestion pricing lawsuit is expected to rule in the case by June — just days before the MTA hopes to turn on the tolling system.

Lawyers for the MTA — which expects to generate $1 billion a year from congestion pricing — told Judge Leo Gordon that tolling is scheduled to begin by mid-June during a status conference Tuesday in Newark Federal Court.

Gordon said he expected to have a ruling on the legality of the congestion pricing plan by early June, and set oral arguments in the case to begin on April 3.

The Garden State sued the federal Transportation Department in July, seeking to halt New York’s plan to charge drivers entering Midtown and lower Manhattan. The tolls would affect vehicles between 60th St. and the Battery.

Congestion Pricing Toll Readers are seen here installed on Third Ave. looking North at E. 60th St. Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023 in Manhattan. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News)
A congestion pricing toll reader on Park Ave. at E. 61st St. in Manhattan. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News)

The suit claims that the Transportation Department and the Federal Highway Administration failed to conduct a “comprehensive” and “complete” environmental review of New York’s plan, which New Jersey claims will cause pollution by changing regional traffic patterns.

MTA officials say traffic patterns were exhaustively studied, and steps will be taken to mitigate pollution where truck traffic may increase.

Transit officials have previously expressed hopes they could begin tolling in May, and have pointed to New Jersey’s lawsuit and similar legal challenges as the primary stumbling block to starting the tolls.

In addition to the suit brought by N.J. Gov. Murphy’s administration, a separate lawsuit brought by politicians and residents of Fort Lee, N.J. alleges similar harms.

Gordon denied a motion Tuesday to consolidate the two suits.

Additionally, public sector unions including the United Federation of Teachers have sued to stop the toll, as has a group of New York City residents and elected officials.

FILE - New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks to reporters after signing a bill in Paulsboro, N.J., Thursday, July 6, 2023. Seventeen-year-olds in New Jersey will be able to vote in primaries if they'll be 18 by the next general election under new legislation Murphy signed, Friday, Jan. 5. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)

The current congestion pricing plan would charge motorists a base toll of $15 one time each day they drive into the congestion zone.

Drivers entering the city via tolled crossings like the Holland Tunnel or the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel would receive a discount. Drivers who stick to the FDR Drive or West Side Highway before exiting the congestion zone would not be charged.

The MTA will hold state-mandated public hearings on the plan at the end of February. A final version of the plan is then expected to be voted on by the agency’s board in March before the plan receives final sign-off from the Federal Highway Administration.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said Wednesday that the agency welcomes an expedited ruling on New Jersey’s suit.

“Congestion pricing can’t come fast enough given the amount of critical investment in mass transit that is ready to proceed,” he said in a statement. “We appreciate the court’s focus on expeditiously resolving the pending litigation.”