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Congestion Pricing

Hochul, Schumer Zip Out of Gateway Announcement Without Facing the Press

Hochul and Schumer have avoided the city's transit press corps since the governor's June 5 abandonment of congestion pricing.

Photo: Dave Colon|

The empty seat represents the lack of comment.

Maybe they were trying to beat New York City's historically-slow traffic.

Gridlock Gov. Kathy Hochul and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer quietly ducked out of a public appearance to announce the federal funding agreement for the cross-Hudson Gateway tunnel on Monday — managing to sneak away without taking questions from reporters still pondering the future of the city and MTA after Hochul's abandonment of congestion pricing.

Hochul has not taken questions specifically on transit issues since she abruptly pulled the plug on congestion pricing one month ago, and Schumer has limited his public comments on the matter to people who can find him in an exciting "Where's my Senator?" scavenger hunt around New York City.

While Schumer told random people in Prospect Park last month that he still supports the traffic toll, he hasn't taken any position on what the governor should do in order to restore congestion pricing or the money the MTA expected to raise from it.

Hochul and Schumer's absence left Deputy U.S. Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg to fend off questions from the media.

Trottenberg, the former New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner, was a congestion pricing proponent during her time in New York City government. On Monday, she told reporters she had been unaware that Hochul would refuse to launch congestion pricing on June 30 as planned before the governor announced it with a pre-recorded video. Trottenberg did not say "no" when asked if she'd told Hochul that she wants to see congestion pricing happen, merely saying that she "wouldn't get into that."

The deputy secretary is more focused, she said, on figuring out what to do about the mess Hochul made — particularly around the MTA's need to stop work on the phase two of the Second Avenue subway, which depended on both a large federal grant and a local match funded by congestion pricing money.

"We are in conversations with the state, with the MTA, about what's going to happen next," she said. "[Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg] has made the pledge that we want to keep our commitments to all the projects that we had agreed to do with the MTA. But obviously, we're working through with them now how the financing is going to work.

In her remarks on the Gateway project, Hochul inadvertently highlight the irony of her opposition to congestion pricing — marveling at the ability of New York, New Jersey and the feds to come up with $16 billion for Gateway as the MTA struggles to find $16.5 billion to make up for her decision not to launch the tolls.

"You make $16 billion of investments happen," the governor said.

Hochul also held up the Gateway project as an economic boon, highlighting what she said would be "95,000 good-paying jobs for this region...$20 billion of economic impact...families having more money in their pockets."

But as Reinvent Albany has shown in its analysis of the congestion pricing pause, killing congestion pricing puts 100,000 jobs in New York State alone at risk, which means Hochul still comes out 5,000 jobs short on the ledger.

Streetsblog attempted to get New York State DOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez to comment on the congestion tolls — which require her signature to move forward. She declined.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy appeared to sense the media's frustration with Hochul's early exit, before the speeches and pronouncements had even wrapped up.

"I'm incredibly honored to be here. And I'm going to sit down after I speak by the way I want to hear the rest of you to make sure I didn't miss anything," Murphy said.

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