Pricing is Alive. JFK Rail Link and SMART Fund May be Dead.

Annie Karni reports in today’s New York Sun that the outlines of a congestion pricing bill may be hammered out in Albany before Memorial Day, though not exactly as Mayor Bloomberg initially proposed.

Karni writes that MTA executive director Lee Sander would prefer to see the $3.75 billion earmarked for a direct rail link from Lower Manhattan to JFK Airport allocated to the Second Avenue subway instead.

Critics of the JFK Rail Link, which have included the Regional Plan
Association, say the project would benefit fewer riders than a new
subway line. Because it would cut down on the commute between Long
Island’s North Shore and Lower Manhattan, some say it would mostly
benefit downtown developers by narrowing the large gap between Midtown
and Downtown rents.

Sander also doesn’t like PlaNYC’s proposal to direct congestion pricing revenue to a new transit funding authority known as the SMART fund.

Mr. Sander on Friday expressed grave misgivings about the creation
of a new funding authority at an oversight hearing run by Assemblyman
Richard Brodsky, a Democrat of Westchester.

State Senate leader Joe Bruno is reported to be enthusiastic about Mayor Bloomberg’s plans.

"He called the mayor’s presentation last week to Senate Republicans ‘outstanding,’" and sources say he is likely to support the mayor’s plan.

And Karni’s sources speculate that State Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver may be willing to swap his beloved one-seat ride to JFK for the completion of the Second Avenue subway.

"The city needs a full length Second Avenue Subway, as opposed to the
money being spread out in smaller pieces of big projects," the chief
attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, Gene Russianoff, said. "The
problem over the last 10 years has been that if you’re for all of the
projects, you’re really for none of them. That’s why they’ve inched
along."

  • JK

    Nice piece Aaron.

    Things look much better for pricing than probably would have been predicted at this point. The opposition has been able to muster very little credible arguments and the proponents have done a good job. The C40 conference was tremendous at framing pricing as a climate change, greater good issue. It also helped educate reporters and editors about London’s experience and probably made it harder for opponents to get away with as many nonsensical claims.

    Even if pricing doesn’t pass, it’s helped the powers that be to get serious about things. Killing the JFK rail link has been a goal of transit advocates for many years.

  • mfs

    i’m glad to see that the trucks part is still under negotiation. people can get on a subway, but freight can’t.

    The only thing the bloomberg proposal incentivizes for trucks is off-peak delivery, which is impractical for most small businesses.

    London lets electric hybrid and alternate fuel trucks go into the congestion zone for free. I’d like to see that in this plan. It would be a really really easy way to help subsidize a much-needed improvement in truck emissions. Given a truck that goes into manhattan 220 weekdays a year, waiving the congestion charge would be $4,200 a year.

    As Liu suggested at the Friday panel, many businesses would also appreciate a break from parking tickets in exchange for accepting congestion pricing. Let’s get rid of some street parking spaces for exclusive and enforced loading zones.

  • The Second Ave Subway takes priority over the JFK rail link, certainly. I’ve never understood why that was Pataki’s #1 transit priority, considering the Airtrain, and the fact that there is still no rail access to LaGuardia . . . made no sense to me.

    But didn’t PlaNYC include both the JFK link and SAS in it’s capital plan?

  • AD

    So what’s wrong with the SMART financing authority?

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    The JFK thing is a non-starter for people that have to actually write the checks, too few asses in the seat per $. Its legs are strictly a function of Pataki and Schumer’s blurred vision for the economic revival of ground zero real estate. There will be a few people crying over it but it should sink of its own weight.

    The SMART financing authority may or not be actually smart but it definitely pulled the center of gravity away from the MTA toward the Mayor. Thats why MTA opposes it. The equation has changed with Spitzer in Pataki’s chair. The MTA is a very powerful tool in the hands of the Governor and Spitzer is learning to enjoy weilding it even though it is still, and will remain for the next half decade, a Pataki board.

    Now we are getting somewhere. It is clear a lot of stuff from PlaNYC has to go overboard. If the only thing left is the congestion pricing piece providing $400 million yearly for transit through the MTA I, personally, will be delighted. Maybe Airtrain is the first of the real red herrings to go. I hope it is followed by some of the other stuff too.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Maybe Bloomberg could wrangle a majority of the MTA board appointees in exchange for putting the congestion charge money in the MTA pot?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    There is probably already a majority on the board that supports the principle of congestion charging. But that same majority wanted Pataki or Dinkins-Giuliani-Bloomberg to pay the city-state portion of the capital plan which didn’t happen. The political battle is in the City Council, the State Legislature and the next Mayoral race. Right now I don’t see a majority in any of those locations that supports the concept let alone the details of Bloombergs plan. After all the same City Council bravely fought back Sunday parking meters, the same State Legislature opposes red light and speed cameras. And, the only one who wants to be Mayor next time to take a position (Weiner) is a smart street politician from the outer boroughs and you know where he stands.

    I’m glad things are going better with the politics but the basic political problems are still there. It is easy for Bloomberg to propose good policy at this point. He can’t run for Mayor again. Perhaps the smarter thing to do would be to fight term limits so that people like Bloomberg who all of a sudden discover the value of good policy in their second term can put their money where their mouth is and run for another term.

    Same with the City Council. Half the City Council will be looking for other political jobs. If congestion pricing will help them find them I’m sure you will get their support. If it won’t, expect to find them on the other side of the barricades with Weiner.

  • jk

    Niccolo

    To date, I’ve been like you: big supporter of pricing, very skeptical about political support. But for some reason I’m optimistic that pricing can pass the legislature.

    Among other reasons, I have a hard time seeing council kill it if the legislature says yes.(Does council absolutely have to pass a homerule message on this? Anybody know?) Nor do I see Bruno killing it if Shelly and Spitzer are for it. Without SMART as a distraction, Spitzer is definitely on-board because it bails him out of an MTA melt down. And, it looks like Shelly is sold if pricing ensures Second Avenue will happen. That’s a legacy he wants. He’s at the edifice complex time of his career and it’s a big project.

    It is always the safe bet to wager on inertia and negativism in Albany. Put this has a very different feel than previous tolling efforts. You point to Weiner, but John Liu’s new found support for pricing should tell us something. Guy is very ambitious for higher office and has very sensitive antennae. He could easily be grandstanding against pricing but instead is at least taking a straddle.

  • mfs

    general (but sometimes inaccurate) rule of thumb for homerule: if it’s a law that only applies to the City and will be implemented by a city agency, it requires a homerule message.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Sorry, Niccolo, I wasn’t clear. I meant that maybe in exchange for putting the congestion pricing money into the MTA pot, Bloomberg could arrange a rewrite of the laws governing the MTA, shifting power on the board away from the governor and to the NYC mayor.

    What else in the transportation part of the plan do you think could get tossed overboard? If you throw out the JFK rail link and SMART and keep the Second Avenue Subway and LIRR East Side Access, what’s left? A bunch of bus lanes and express bus routes, and “THE Tunnel.” Am I missing anything?

  • JK

    Angus, the state is not going to empower the NYC mayor in exchange for money. From the state’s perspective, it can give the mayor pricing and the money, and the mayor doesnt get much of say in the matter. Getting rid of SMART substantially increases the attractiveness of the pricing plan to the governor and MTA. The governor is not going to sit back and watch one of his most powerful agencies get taken away or watch the mayor get more control over it. Lastly, historically, mayor’s have tried to wiggle out of responsibility for the MTA — including this one who has reduced the city’s contribution.

    Back to homerule, can the legislature effectively ignore it. My guess is yes.

  • doc3osh

    I am so excited to see that congestion pricing may become a reality… congestion pricing + second avenue subway = huge win for everyone who breathes air in manhattan. I drive in from westchester three times a week, so it may push me to take the train more… my only wish is that they’d make it more than $8.00 … hopefully they will raise it in a couple of years, as they did in London when everyone saw how much better their lives had become.

  • Steve

    Don’t want to get overly optimistic only to have my hopes dashed . . . but its fun to speculate what it would be like to bicycle south past 86th street and have the car and truck traffic suddenly thin out! I suppose it will also speed up, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes.

  • jojo

    The JFK link is a redundant waste. There’s only so much money out there, folks.

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