Grants to Ease Congestion Will Add to Transport Costs

Each of the projects approved has some sort of cost to users attached to the proposal. “These direct user fees have the advantage of both reducing the enormous costs of congestion, and also of raising funds more effectively than the gas tax does to help states and cities build and maintain critical transportation infrastructure,” said Mary E. Peters, US Secretary of Transportation.

“Many politicians treat tolls and congestion pricing as taboo, but leaders in these communities understand that commuters want solutions that work,” she added. Though the remarks touch on commuters, truck traffic will be subject to the fees. For example, in New York City—recipient of the largest of the DOT grants—Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed fees of $8 per day for an automobile and $21 a day for trucks that would enter the central business district between 6 am and 6 pm weekdays.

New York will get the largest of the grants, $354 million. Others are San Francisco, $158.7 million; Seattle, $138.7 million; Minneapolis $133.3 million; and Miami, $62.9 million. While New York will work to impose fees for driving in Manhattan, all of the other projects will receive the funding boost only if they convert or create toll lanes along busy stretches of existing roadways. The five were selected from 26 proposals submitted from cities across the country.

The winners “have committed to fighting congestion now,” said Secretary Peters. “Our commitment was to allocate the federal contribution in a lump sum, not in bits and pieces over several years—an approach meant to get these projects off the drawing board and into action.”

As far as the highly visible New York project, The New York Times editorialized its support by pointing to similar European projects. “After London began charging cars to enter the city center,” it said in an editorial, “public scorn for the idea turned into strong support. In Stockholm, Swedes also viewed congestion pricing with great skepticism, but by the end of a six-month trial, they asked that it be made permanent.”

Not all support the DOT move. In reaction to the awards, Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, calling them bribery, particularly in the case of New York City, said, “At the time we’re talking about the Highway Trust Fund bleeding to death, and our nation’s bridges in need of repairs and replacement, we have DOT giving grants to cities to start tolling people.”

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