© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People walk on Park Avenue, that was closed to vehicular traffic, during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
By David Shepardson
(Reuters) -The Biden administration on Friday approved the release of the final environmental assessment for New York City’s congestion pricing plan for public comment, a key step before the project can be green-lighted.
The Federal Highway Administration approval is a milestone in efforts to implement the plan announced in 2019 to reduce traffic and provide funding to improve mass transit by using tolls to manage traffic in central Manhattan.
The approval means the New York project sponsors are cleared to put the environmental assessment and draft finding of no significant impact out for a 30-day public notice before the federal agency makes its final determination.
In August, New York said drivers could face a traffic congestion charge of up to $23 a day in late 2023. A study released last year projected would reduce the number of cars entering Manhattan by 15% to 20%.
The city wants to charge a daily variable toll for vehicles entering or remaining within the central business district, defined as between 60th Street in midtown Manhattan and Battery Park on Manhattan’s southern tip.
New York, which has the most congested U.S. traffic, would become the first major U.S. city to follow London, which began a similar charge in 2003.
New York lawmakers approved the plan in 2019, and it was originally projected to start in 2021. But the federal government under President Donald Trump did not take any action.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) said on Friday congestion pricing “is a generational opportunity to make it easier for people to get around in, and get to, the Central Business District, by reducing traffic and funding improvements to the public transit system.”
MTA said it was grateful the Federal Highway Administration found the document met standards for legal sufficiency.
Last year, MTA said passenger vehicle drivers could pay $9 to $23 to enter at peak times, while overnight tolls could be as little as $5. Drivers could apply existing bridge and tunnel tolls to congestion charges.
The environmental assessment found the charge would cut traffic, improve air quality, make buses more reliable and increase transit use by 1%-2%. The toll would generate $1-$1.5 billion a year and support $15 billion in debt financing for mass transit improvement.