Assemblyman Hevesi Clarifies Transit “Money Grab” Comment

Following our post yesterday about a newspaper article in which Andrew Hevesi was quoted as calling congestion pricing "a money grab to pay for mass transit," Streetsblog got a call from the Queens assemblyman’s office.

hevesi.jpgAide Ashley Pillsbury wanted us to know that, while Hevesi is opposed to congestion pricing, he is a supporter of transit — though she said the Times-Ledger story quoted the assemblyman correctly.

The point of Hevesi’s remarks, Pillsbury said, was that transit revenues, rather than environmental benefits, are the driving force behind congestion pricing. Pillsbury also said that Hevesi believes congestion pricing should undergo a state environmental review before implementation. She was unaware of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission recommendation that the pricing pilot program be monitored for its environmental impacts, with adjustments made as warranted, but said such impacts should be known beforehand.

When a scheduled phone interview with Hevesi didn’t pan out, Pillsbury sent over an op-ed written by the assemblyman and previously published "in several Queens newspapers." Here it is in full.

Manhattan, its residents and its representatives have a serious and legitimate problem to deal with regarding traffic congestion and pollution. While all of the proposed solutions have the potential to negatively impact the areas and the people I represent, I felt it was prudent to wait before solidifying my position, because only comprehensive thinking and cooperation between communities will allow us to tackle large, complex problems like the one Manhattan now faces.

After review of the final proposal, I am now forced to definitively oppose congestion pricing. A number of prominent elected officials have already voiced opposition to this plan including my Councilwoman, Melinda Katz. Some of the issues Councilwoman Katz and others have raised range from mildly troubling to monumentally problematic. These include the fact that there is no guarantee that revenues will be spent on mass transit, the possibility of increased park and riders in outer boroughs and elitist residential parking permit plans that will make people pay to park in their own neighborhoods and keep other citizens out, the fact that New Jersey residents will get a free ride because their tolls will offset the fee, and the fact that the plan hits low and middle income residents exceptionally hard while the more affluent among us will not be impacted.

While these issues gave me pause, it was not until I came upon the fatal flaw in the congestion pricing plan that I was forced to solidify my opposition. I cannot, as a representative of Forest Hills, Middle Village, Rego Park and the surrounding areas, cast a vote in favor of a plan of this magnitude before I am able to definitively assess the environmental impact to these communities. To do so would be the height of irresponsibility because the plan will result in uncalculated levels of increased pollution in the neighborhoods I represent, which in turn, affects the lungs of growing children, complicates or aggravates medical conditions of the elderly and is a contributing factor in respiratory, heart and lung disease.

There is a very simple way for those supporting this plan to address this shortcoming: mandate that a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) be conducted in compliance with New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). SEQRA was written specifically to address major undertakings, such as congestion pricing, with a fact based analysis conducted by qualified experts. Without this information and a realistic understanding of the environmental impact on our neighborhoods, I will not support any plan that has the potential to inflict unknown levels of damage to the environmental well being of my communities and the physical health of the people I represent.

This issue is paramount, and I am stunned by members of the environmental community supporting congestion pricing who are asking us to acquiesce to this plan on the basis of a wink and a nod. The refusal of proponents of this plan to conduct a full review leads me to conclude that either they don’t care about the environmental impact on our communities or they won’t allow a full EIS because they know that the results will not be good for their cause.

All other deflective or untenable assertions that have been used to try to argue against the need for an EIS WILL NOT SUFFICE. These have included: 1) citing studies on environmental impacts in other cities like London and Stockholm, with facts that can be spun in any direction 2) the promise of an expedited EIS that will take place after I cast my vote in the state legislature or 3) unproven guesswork by an environmental community, who interestingly have consistently demanded SEQRA compliance and EIS’s on other major undertakings in New York State but not this one.

Conduct a full Environmental Impact Study, in compliance with all SEQRA requirements, and I will come back to the table ready to discuss all other aspects of congestion pricing in good faith in order to help our neighbors in Manhattan. Until that is done, I will not support congestion pricing.

  • Heffron

    I’m pretty sure this was also his testimony at the public hearing.

    An EIS is certainly good and warranted, but is it really just b/c the Assemblyman is that concerned about having an EIS or this is the easiest thing for him to latch onto to be anti-cp? If an EIS study was done wouldn’t he simply say, “Oh well now I’m against it b/c insert excuse here?”

  • Temp

    Why is an EIS warranted? Do they have the slightest real-world predictive value?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) be conducted in compliance with New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).”

    Followed by a full repeat of the review process, followed by a seven year lawsuit.

    I’ll say it again — the EIS process is a joke, and Hevesi is full of it.

  • mike

    Maybe someone should do and EIS on the current situation for driving around Manhattan. Think they’d roll it all back and change course after they found out all the issues with lots of people driving in a small space that has the potential (and the potential to make the $$) to be one of the most progressive, walkable, rideable, and transitable cities on the planet?

  • Adam K

    Mike – exactly – that’s the problem with EIS’s and why they’re a joke. They are implicitly biased against positive changes because A) they assume the status quo is neutral, and B) are only consider the negative effects of projects, not the positive ones that might outweigh the negative.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Maybe Mr. Hevesi and his colleagues may have to decide, legislative pay raise + MTA capital plan + congestion pricing or none of the above.

  • rhubarbpie

    We’ve had the EIS debate elsewhere, and I believe the assembly member has a point. And skipping the EIS at this point is a good way to provoke a lawsuit, not to prevent one.

    I also think that Heffron is also right — many opponents are just going to come up with a reason to oppose congestion pricing, whether it’s legit or not.

    However, the absolute silliest part of Hevesi’s op-ed is his assertion that congestion is a “Manhattan” problem. It’s not like he represents Iowa or a precinct in India — his constituents work in Manhattan, ride the subways to Manhattan, go to school in Manhattan, etc. And Queens is still in New York City, isn’t it?

    And even those of his constituents who never enter Manhattan are breathing the same air polluted by vehicles driving in Manhattan, no?

    I’m surprised that Mr. Hevesi would advance this, though I know it’s popular among some non-Manhattan politicians. It’s just not very thoughtful, shall we say?

  • Hevesi’s attempt to swift boat congestion pricing, a program to reduce driving, with an Environmental Impact Study only succeeds in making him look bad. His tactics are as plainly obstructive as pricing is environmentally positive.

    I see that his people have forgotten an argument against the “need,” for an EIS. I’ll lend them a hand:

    4) A study in compliance SEQRA (whatever that is) could not be completed in time to attain the funding approved by the federal government for a program to reduce congestion.

    That’s a pretty important one! Not only are we supposed to believe that charging people to drive could somehow cause devastating pollution somewhere, we’re supposed to accept that it’s worth losing a few hundred million dollars in federal funding to try to predict that before the pilot program instead of evaluating actual results when it starts. A program that could easily be stopped, if his impossible case scenario took place. I hate to reveal my “political naïveté” to Weiner & Co., but I think New Yorkers are smart enough to see through this cheap environmental hypocrisy.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I think thats State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) Doc. Expect someone to utilize it if and when CP passes, it will be another entire political campaign. I can read the headlines now. However, SEQRA suits have a very poor record of success in stalling policies in similar circumstances.

  • That “environmental” legislation is so toxic it has metastasized: SEQRCEQR. I refuse to learn this abbreviation, but I’m glad to hear that the success rate of abusing it to block serious environmental reform is not good.

  • rhubarbpie

    While SEQRA is imperfect, I can’t see how picking and choosing when to abide by the law is a good idea, esp. when one argument is that we’ll lose federal dollars. How quickly we yield to temptation!

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