2007-07-19 / Other News

City's Congestion Pricing Plan Detoured By State Lawmakers

By Michael Gormley Associated Press Writer

By Michael GormleyAssociated Press Writer

State lawmakers adjourned a special session on Monday without voting on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to reduce weekday traffic in Man-hattan.

At a Tuesday press conference the mayor criticized state lawmakers for failing to meet the Monday deadline for as much $500 million in federal transportation funds to implement the project aimed at combating green house gas emissions.

"The city is poorer today," the may-or noted, "for Albany's inaction yesterday. We have suffered a major setback for clean air and to our critical commitment to fight climate change and have jeopardized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… It's a disgrace."

Bloomberg was in Albany on Monday to make a last-ditch push for his congestion pricing plan to reduce traffic and pollution. But the pivotal player in the proposal's future, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was in Man-hattan with no plans to return to Al-bany. Silver proposed creating a commission to consider options to reduce traffic that would give the Albany legislators until March to act.

The mayor has championed congestion pricing for the city, but it re-quires approval in Albany. Silver questioned elements of the plan without rejecting it outright. Proponents fear the plan could become a bargaining chip in ongoing state Capitol ne-gotiations over a range of issues, in-cluding pay raise for lawmakers and judges.

Silver and his aides didn't tip their hand all weekend during closed-door meetings over the issue. Meanwhile, staffers for Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Governor Eliot Spitzer, who support Bloomberg's plan, were at work Monday in the Capitol as negotiations intensified.

Brooklyn State Senator Carl Kruger, who has been critical of the congestion pricing plan, calling it an additional tax, said the decision not to bring the bill to a vote "is a victory for all New Yorkers."

Kruger said that he will continue to press for an alternative bill that offers key incentives to ease Manhattan traffic woes, including an increase in te-lecommuting and carpooling, a shift in commercial traffic to non-rush hours, and expanded bus service to and from Manhattan citywide.

Back-to-back news conferences at City Hall on Sunday held by advocates and opponents of the traffic plan aimed to sway state lawmakers.

A coalition of 150 public interest and environmental groups called on the Assembly to act, saying Bloomberg's scheme to charge special fees for cars and trucks to enter midtown Manhat-tan on workdays would be a "net gain" for commuters and the vast majority of New Yorkers dependent on mass transit.

Paul Steely White, executive director of the nonprofit Transportation Alter-natives, said the major cause of pollution is buses and trucks stuck in traffic and idling their engines.

City Councilman David Weprin said the city should take steps to im-prove and upgrade mass transit first then talk about taxing people later.

New York is one of nine cities vying for three U.S. Department of Transportation pilot programs to combat urban traffic congestion and pollution, part of a $1.2 billion outlay for new programs to ease U.S. gridlock.

Bloomberg's traffic plan calls for cars to pay $8 and trucks to pay $21 to enter Manhattan's most heavily traveled business district on workdays, with the money going toward transportation improvements.

Advocates of the plan say similar approaches have worked in such foreign cities as Singapore, Oslo, Stockholm and London. New York was among 27 U.S. cities that initially applied for the Department of Transportation funds.

Neil S. Friedman contributed to this article.

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