NY to spend billions for NJ train commuters’ upgrades as Garden State Gov. Murphy tries to sink congestion pricing

·3 min read

Gov. Hochul on Tuesday said she was okay with a $2 billion price hike for a pair of new Hudson River rail tunnels that will primarily benefit New Jersey commuters — even as her Garden State counterpart lobbies to kill the MTA’s congestion pricing plan for Manhattan.

The bi-state Gateway Development Commission last week announced the cost to build the new tunnels and repair two others that were damaged in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy now sits at $16.1 billion, up from the previous estimate of $14.1 billion.

Officials in New York and New Jersey have each agreed to pay for a quarter of the work with the hope the federal government will cover the remaining half.

The project isn’t expected to be finished until at least 2038 — and doesn’t include more than $20 billion worth of other construction under the purview of the Gateway Development Commission that include the overhaul and expansion of Penn Station.

“Inflation has gone up everywhere,” Hochul said during a news conference. “What we wanted to do is get those numbers out there early so we could bolster our argument to the federal government for a larger share.”

The increase means New York taxpayers will cough up an extra $500 million for the project, not counting financing costs. Hochul in July also agreed to pay $386 million to help rebuild New Jersey’s Portal North Bridge, another project that’s part of Gateway.

But as Hochul has made big commitments to improve Manhattan-bound commutes for New Jerseyans, Gov. Phil Murphy has spent months on the other side of the river lobbying against the MTA’s congestion pricing plan, which aims to fund $15 billion in transit upgrades for New Yorkers.

Murphy last month said the new tolls — which could cost weekday drivers between $9 and $23 — would overload NJ Transit service that stands to be improved by the new tunnels. His comments came as NJ Transit ridership is down more than 35% from before the pandemic.

Murphy said “maybe it [congestion pricing] is a good idea, but it’s an idea whose time has not come,” and blamed his predecessor Chris Christie for sinking a previous proposal to build new Hudson River rail tunnels that would have allowed for more NJ Transit trains to enter Manhattan.

The New Jersey governor has even put the state Turnpike Authority to work in his anti-congestion toll lobbying. The Authority used the state’s E-ZPass system in August to issue a message saying congestion pricing “could significantly increase commuter costs, overburden our public transit systems, and cause congestion in North Jersey communities.”

That claim contradicts the MTA’s environmental assessment on congestion pricing, which found the program would cause less than a 0.2% increase in New Jersey traffic and would not overburden the state’s transit system.

Hochul on Tuesday expressed little concern over Murphy’s comments, saying “we’re going to move forward” with the tolls.

Liam Blank, a policy manager for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group, argued Murphy should turn his focus away from fighting congestion pricing and towards bigger goals to improve commutes to and from New Jersey.

Blank wants New York and New Jersey to cut a deal on “through-running” at Penn Station, a long-proposed ideal that would unify some Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit services to enable one-seat rides from New Jersey to Jamaica, Queens and beyond.

“Gateway isn’t going to be a gamechanger in the sense that a lot of people are going to give up their cars all of the sudden,” said Blank. “It’s the same routes to the same location.”