New York City is one of nine finalists for a share of $1.1 billion in federal funds set aside to fight traffic congestion in major urban areas, Mary E. Peters, the United States secretary of transportation, announced yesterday, giving momentum to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan, according to a report in the New York Times.
Bloomberg's plan includes an $8 charge for cars and a $21 charge for commercial trucks entering Manhattan below 86th Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, or a $4 charge for drivers within Manhattan, allowing for several exceptions.
New York City could receive about $500 million of the federal funds when up to five winners are chosen in August, officials told the Times. But Peters warned that if the mayor's plan does not have support of the state government in Albany by then, the city's share of the funds could be endangered, the paper reported.
"It would be very difficult for us to make this area a finalist if we did not know that the project could go forward," Ms. Peters told reporters after meeting with Bloomberg and Gov. Elliot Spitzer in Manhattan, the Times reported.
"Part of this process is certainly to ensure that we can give the secretary the assurance that this is a plan that will happen," Spitzer told the Times. "In her dispensing the federal dollars, she wants that assurance and therefore we need to create a persuasive argument that Albany is behind this. Obviously, the governor is behind it."
There were still questions to be answered regarding the implementation of the plan and some technical and financial issues, Spitzer told the Times. "These are all the questions that we're asking, and we're going to try to game it out as quickly as we can and then come up with the best answer to satisfy the secretary," he told the paper.
Although Republicans in the Senate were expected to introduce a 140-page bill yesterday to enact the plan, it also needs support from the Assembly, where Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan, has opposed the plan, the paper reported.
Bloomberg hopes to use the promise of federal funds to persuade the Legislature to endorse the plan, according to the Times. That strategy was unsuccessful in the past, however, most memorably when the mayor used the prospect of a 2012 Olympic bid in a failed attempt to gain support for a West Side Stadium, an effort which Silver helped block, the paper reported.
"The fact that we are on the Department of Transportation's short list of cities for at least $400 million in grant funds represents an extraordinary opportunity for the city and one that is available to us right now, and it makes the need to enact congestion pricing legislation even more urgent," Bloomberg told the Times after the meeting.
Bloomberg said the money could be put toward the implementation of the congestion pricing pilot project, which has been estimated to cost about $250 million, the Times reported, as well as provide faster relief for citizens in areas with limited access to mass transportation.
Other finalists include Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolist-St. Paul, Miami, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle, according to the paper.
Put together, the nine finalists represent one-third of all highway congestion reported among the nation's 85 largest cities, and handled about 20% of all vehicular travel in the country, according to the transportation department.
According to the department, all of the cities' applications proposed tolls based on traffic volumes and aimed to improve mass transit, the paper reported.
Up to five winners would be selected by mid-August, Peters told the paper, suggesting that New York City was likely to be one of the winners because no other city had such a detailed plan that was as far along.
Coincidentally, Peters was forced to delay the morning meeting because she was stuck in traffic on the F.D.R. Drive, the Times said.
"Fortunately, the mayor has come up with a plan to end the stalled traffic that is quickly coming to define this city," she told the paper. "And we're very pleased to hear the governor's support of that plan as well. This plan will keep this city that never sleep from becoming the city that never moves."