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Manhattan Institute

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Testimony of Hope Cohen to the New York City Council


Testimony of Hope Cohen to the New York City Council

March 24, 2008

Thank you, council members, for this opportunity to testify in favor of the congestion-pricing program. I am Hope Cohen, Deputy Director of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Rethinking Development.

We entered the congestion-pricing debate in 2006, when we issued a study on the public acceptability of road pricing. That research found that New Yorkers are open to pricing solutions as part of a comprehensive package of transportation improvements designed to reduce traffic congestion.

Since Mayor Bloomberg first discussed congestion pricing last April, we have supported the concept, while voicing concerns about implementation details. With the revisions recommended by the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, we are here today to say in no uncertain terms that it is time—before March 31—to proceed with the congestion-pricing program.

New Yorkers know already that pricing works. Our East River crossings have demonstrated for decades that tolls do affect driver behavior. The untolled Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queensboro bridges, along with their feeder roads, are regularly clogged, while traffic flows more smoothly to and through the tolled tunnels.

And our transportation infrastructure needs the revenue that congestion pricing will generate. The bridges I just named—along with the others the city operates—compete for funding with all other municipal budget priorities. Over the years, the lack of a dedicated revenue stream has resulted in deferred maintenance and sometimes dangerous disrepair.

Meanwhile, the MTA's tolled East River crossings (the Triborough Bridge and Queens-Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels)—and the Hudson River crossings, which are all tolled by the Port Authority—are in exemplary condition. Tolls yield enough revenue not only to maintain the facilities to the highest standards, but also to subsidize the public transit operations of MTA and Port Authority.

Funds raised from congestion pricing will also subsidize transit and will enable our transportation infrastructure to reach and maintain a state of good repair. And it starts now. Meeting the March 31 deadline is essential for the city to get federal funding for public transportation—more bus and ferry service, better connections—for the communities sending the most drivers into Manhattan's central business district.

Of course, congestion pricing is not a traffic panacea. As our study recommended in 2006, the administration is proposing it as one element of a congestion-reduction program, including increased enforcement of traffic violations like blocking the box. Since those with access to free parking near the workplace are the most likely to drive to jobs in Manhattan, we endorse the commission's recommendations on curbside parking and the mayor's recent emphasis on reducing official parking placards.

We want to qualify for federal funding for up-front transit upgrades to entice drivers out of their cars, benefitting our air quality, our economy, and the infrastructure that enables New York to be the most environmentally efficient place in the nation. So please, council members, send a home rule message to Albany to say New York City wants to reduce traffic congestion and invest in our vital transportation network.