New York City union sues to block city congestion pricing plan

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) -A New York City teachers union filed a lawsuit against state and federal agencies on Thursday seeking to block a congestion pricing plan in the city from taking effect this year, arguing it will divert traffic and boost pollution in some areas.

Among the defendants in the lawsuit are the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

New York’s plan to impose tolls on vehicles entering certain parts of Manhattan to fight congestion and pay for mass transit already faces a lawsuit from the state of New Jersey. Under the plan, New York City will charge a daily toll of $15 for passenger vehicles driving in Manhattan south of 60th Street. It will charge up to $36 for larger trucks.

New York says more than 900,000 vehicles enter the Manhattan Central Business District daily, reducing travel speeds to

around 7 miles an hour (11 kph) on average.

Joining the teachers union lawsuit in challenging the congestion pricing plan is Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella.

According to the lawsuit, the pricing plan “would inflict environmental and economic damage on already challenged neighborhoods” by diverting traffic and increasing pollution to areas like the South Bronx. It said the city’s decision to adopt the plan came after “a rushed and hurried process that violated the comprehensive review requirements.”

FHWA declined to comment.

The MTA said the environmental review process “involved four years of consultation with government agencies, public outreach meetings, and engagement with tens of thousands of public comments … If we really want to combat ever-worsening clogged streets we must adequately fund a public transit system that will bring safer and less congested streets, cleaner air, and better transit.”

The MTA voted last month to give the plan preliminary approval and will accept public comments through March 11.

New Jersey’s lawsuit also argued the FHWA environmental review of the plan was inadequate and said it ignored the financial and environmental burdens on New Jersey residents.

New York City, which has the most congested traffic of any U.S. city, would become the first major city in the U.S. to follow London, which implemented a similar charge in 2003.

New York said the charge would cut traffic by 17%, improve air quality and increase transit use by 1% to 2%. The toll would generate $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year and support $15 billion in debt financing for mass transit improvement.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in WashingtonEditing by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis)