Gov. Andrew Cuomo threw down a marker for New York City congestion pricing in his State of the State speech.

Whether the state legislature will pass it is another question.

“I think there’s a greater push for congestion pricing,” said Howard Cure, director of municipal bond research for Evercore Wealth Management. “That’s going to be a hard sell for a lot of [state] representatives outside Manhattan. The need for funding for the subways could finally make this a reality.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was first elected in 2010.
"There is no mystery. We have to fix the system,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Bloomberg News

While dancing around the actual phrase in Wednesday’s address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, Cuomo said his Fix NYC panel will present several options for funding city transit and managing street congestion.

"We will have new technology installed which will offer a variety of alternatives, defining an exclusive zone in Manhattan where additional charges could be paid," the governor said.

Frequent delays, breakdowns and track fires over the past year triggered Cuomo’s declaration in June of a state of emergency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state-run agency that operates the city’s subways and buses, plus two commuter rail lines and several bridges and tunnels.

The MTA, which Cuomo controls, is one of the largest municipal issuers with roughly $39 billion in debt.

Its struggles to find a reliable funding stream have prompted transit advocates to call for congestion pricing akin to the MoveNY initiative, led by engineer and former city transportation commissioner “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz.

Schwartz’s plan calls for a surcharge on vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street, tolling the four now-free East River crossings and reducing tolls on other outer-borough crossings. Schwartz has projected his plan to bring in $1.5 billion in annual revenue, with $1.1 billion for mass transit and $375 million for bridges and roads.

He has said the plan could generate roughly $15 billion through bonding.

Former mayor Michael Bloomberg unsuccessfully proposed congestion pricing a decade ago.

Schwartz is on the 16-member Fix NYC panel, which consists of transportation experts, MTA representatives, local leaders and stakeholders.

Other members include former MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast; Kathy Wylde, president of the business group Partnership for New York; Scott Rechler, chairman of think tank Regional Plan Association and former vice-chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and Mitchell Moss, director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

According to Cuomo, HNTB Corp. will provide technical assistance and modeling, and evaluate various options and their potential impacts to the city.

Think tank Regional Plan Association called on Cuomo to release the findings of the advisory panel and proceed on recommendations.

"A plan like the one proposed by the MoveNY coalition that would equalize tolling on the bridges, making tolling fairer to drivers, charge drivers for entering the most congested parts of the city, and create a dedicated stream of revenue to fix and modernize transit for New Yorkers who can’t afford to drive, would be the fairest, most progressive and sustainable solution to New York’s traffic and transit crises," said RPA president Tom Wright.

All major crossings throughout the region now charge a toll, except for the East River bridges. Officials eliminated them decades ago because of traffic backups at tollbooths.

Pushback from Albany political leaders could include Republicans generally opposed to tolling. Republicans control the Senate, thanks to an alliance between dissident Democrats and the GOP.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, in Albany on Wednesday, repeated his objection.

"I think there are serious fairness issues when it comes to congestion pricing," he told reporters. De Blasio instead favors a millionaire’s tax to help fund transit.

“It’s his option for a lot of things,” said Cure, citing pre-kindergarten, healthcare and other mayoral initiatives.

Cuomo on Wednesday also called on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to Port Authority to seriously consider relocating its Red Hook, Brooklyn, maritime activities and for the MTA to possibly extend a subway line, through a new tunnel, from lower Manhattan to Red Hook and surrounding neighborhoods.

The governor also said the Empire State Development Corp. and the Port Authority would work with local developers to continue modernizing Penn Station. He invoked eminent domain as an option.

Further, Cuomo prodded the Port Authority to convert to cashless tolling at its crossings.

Corey Johnson’s election as New York City Council speaker on Wednesday could also change the regional transit funding dynamic, Johnson, meeting with reporters after the council session, said he favors more city funding for the MTA — to which de Blasio has balked — in exchange for greater accountability from the authority.

“It seems as if he wants to stake out a little independence from the mayor,” said Cure. “I’m not sure if that will mean more influence in Albany. “

Johnson’s predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, was a de Blasio loyalist.

“We need more accountability [from the MTA] in the money that we put forward already," said Johnson. "And we have to ensure that if we put money forward, it cannot be siphoned off for upstate ski resorts that don’t make their profits for the year. We need them to spend the money wisely and for projects remain on time.”

Johnson said he favors tolling the East River bridges, while appreciating that it’s a political hot potato in some outer boroughs.

The city, under a complex agreement Cuomo brokered two years ago, committed $2.5 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program.

-- Chip Barnett contributed to this report

Subscribe Now

Independent and authoritative analysis and perspective for the bond buying industry.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.