Just off Columbus Circle and above one of the city’s busiest subway hubs, congestion pricing is finally rounding from concept into near-reality.
New York’s long-running campaign to raise billions of dollars for transit upgrades by tolling motorists driving into the most car-clogged parts of Manhattan is taking shape in the form of vehicle-identifying scanners at West 60th Street and Broadway — tangible proof of what awaits motorists as soon as next spring.
The installation of E-Z Pass readers and license plate-scanning cameras similar to those already in use at approaches to the MTA’s nine bridges and tunnels marks a significant step for the Central Business District Tolling Program, which the Federal Highway Administration signed off on in late June after years of delays.
Tolling devices will be installed at an estimated 120 detection points, and some have already been spotted at West 61st Street and West End Avenue. The tolling zone will extend south from 60th Street, except for vehicles driving through using the FDR Drive, the West Side Highway and the Battery Park underpass.
Drivers in the area looked at the new fixtures warily.
“I don’t like it, because it’s going to affect me,” said Segundo Suculanda, an Uber driver who was parked Tuesday along West 60th Street, outside the Deutsche Bank Center. “We’ve heard about this congestion pricing for years, but seeing those cameras finally makes it feel real.”
The federal government’s June 26 Finding of No Significant Impact put the MTA on a 310-day clock to install, test and activate the country’s first congestion pricing system, which is expected to charge motorists somewhere between $9 and $23 during peak hours to drive south of 60th Street, with discounts of at least 50% eyed between midnight and 4 a.m.
Congestion pricing is supposed to provide close to $15 billion for MTA upgrades that include new subway cars and signals, expanded subway accessibility, electric buses and the extension of the Second Avenue Subway north from 96th Street to East Harlem.
It is also designed to cut by 15% to 20% the number of cars, trucks, vans and buses entering Manhattan, according to a study released last August that outlined potential tolling scenarios.
“At long last, congestion pricing is becoming visible and soon it will start bringing in the money to make the subway more reliable and accessible and clean up our air,” said Danny Pearlstein, policy director for Riders Alliance, an advocacy organization. “Congestion pricing was passed more than four years ago, but because of the holdup in D.C., it was seemingly on ice.
“But now it’s defrosting.”
The structures that will toll vehicles going south of 60th Street and into Manhattan’s central business district are being installed by TransCore. In 2019, the MTA selected the Nashville-based company for a six-year, $507 million contract to build out tolling infrastructure by mounting sensors on traffic poles and arms, on overhead signs or on bridges.
The six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board, which met for the first time last month, must come up with tolling recommendations, along with determining if there are any exemptions or discounts. The board is made up of five representatives appointed by the MTA and one appointed by Mayor Eric Adams.
The MTA’s governing board would then sign off on a final congestion pricing plan.
Congestion pricing still faces opposition from the state of New Jersey, which last month filed a federal lawsuit challenging what it called the Federal Highway Administration’s “rubber stamp” approval of the plan — and from some drivers.
“It’s going to add up, it’s scary to think about,” said Ryan Torres, 34, a delivery driver who lives in Bushwick and drives to Manhattan daily.
Richard Davey, president of New York City Transit, the MTA division in charge of subway, bus and paratransit service, said Tuesday that the tolling plan is on track despite the legal challenges and years of delays.
“There’s nothing anybody can do to stop this,” Davey said on Fox 5’s “Good Day New York.” “The train is rolling in.”
The approval of congestion pricing is also causing some motorists to consider how often they will drive into Manhattan.
“If things keep going up like that and they start adding extra fees, I’ll just have to take the train some days,” said Nick Zaffuto, a Long Island motorist who was sitting in his parked car Tuesday along 59th Street. “I personally like to drive, but some days it just might be more feasible for me to take the train.”