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$500M of taxpayer dough wasted? Hochul, MTA lack Plan B for NYC congestion pricing infrastructure



The Hochul administration is staring at the grim prospect of having to flush a half-billion dollars in taxpayer money down the toilet over the botched congestion pricing scheme.

The boondoggle could’ve been avoided had Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority seriously studied what the economic impact on New York residents and businesses would be by charging drivers $15 to enter parts of Manhattan, critics said.

“One-hundred percent they should’ve done an economic analysis,” said Staten Island Borough President Vito Fosella, a plaintiff in one of many pending lawsuits trying to permanently kill the tolling plan.

Gov. Hochul on Wednesday shockingly halted the congestion pricing toll program’s planned June 30 rollout, saying she’s pausing it “indefinitely” because it’s not the right time.

“They couldn’t wait until all the T’s were crossed and I’s were dotted,” he added. “It’s just emblematic of the arrogance and desire to push this through, and look what happened? Not only are they not getting their money — but they wasted a half-billion dollars.”

E-Z Pass readers, license plate-scanning cameras and other infrastructure needed for the program are already mounted on traffic poles at 110 locatons south of 60th Street.

TransCore, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company, completed the bulk of the work the past year as part of a six-year, $507 million contract the MTA awarded in 2019 to design, build and operate the wildly unpopular program.

Hochul on Wednesday shockingly slammed the brakes on the program’s June 30 rollout, saying she’s pausing it “indefinitely” because it’s not the right time with New Yorkers facing a cost-of-living crisis.

The governor’s sudden flip-flop left the MTA’s budget in limbo: the cash-strapped agency was banking on the new tolls to raise another $1 billion in yearly revenues to help fund $15 billion in capital projects for NYC’s dilapidated transit system.

The move raises serious questions about what to do with the sensors and other infrastructure TransCore installed.

“In their rush to jam through this war-on-cars cash grab, the Biden Administration rubber-stamped it and issued a ‘Finding of No Significant Impact’ allowing MTA to bypass a full and thorough study of the environmental, social and economic impact of congestion pricing,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island), who also joined a lawsuit fighting the plan.

“Likewise, in their rush to grab more money from hardworking New Yorkers, the governor and MTA put up these sensors. When it comes to actual capital improvements, the MTA is always delayed and over schedule, but when it comes to tolling infrastructure, all of a sudden they can get things done in record time.”

Congestion pricing toll gantries like this one in Manhattan currently have little use with plan indefinitely put on pause. Christopher Sadowski

Reps for the MTA and Hochul refused to say if they have contingency plans for the new infrastructure, and both TransCore and NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ office deferred all questions on the matter to the MTA and governor.

Sources said the deafening silence is in part due to state and city leaders having no idea what to do with the infrastructure — which for now amounts to a very expensive municipal art project.

Councilman Keith Powers (D-Manhattan), who supports congestion pricing and represents part of the targeted tolling zone, said the equipment could be used to expand the city’s red-light and speed camera programs.

He also said it could potentially be used to help track down owners of vehicles using obstructed or “ghost” plates to avoid tolls and tickets — and to install newly approved “noise cameras” that detect souped-up cars.

Workers last July installing E-Z Pass and license plate readers on West End Avenue for the now-paused congestion pricing toll plan. Robert Mecea

“[The state] certainly should take advantage of this very expensive infrastructure in Midtown,” said Powers, who drafted the legislation creating the new noise camera program.  

Andrew Albert, an MTA board member who represents riders, also said the existing tech should be used to track down drivers with covered or fake plates – provided they have an E-Z Pass to scan.

Fossella on Friday wrote MTA boss Janno Lieber a letter demanding the new toll readers be taken down immediately “if congestion pricing is truly shelved.”

The GOPer claimed many commuters are “concerned” Hochul’s change of heart is politically motivated to help Democrats and that the tolls will implemented “following this year’s [presidential] election.”

NJ commuters who drive through the Holland Tunnel into NYC have dodged a bullet with the congestion pricing toll plan being put on hold indefinitely. AP

Both he and Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) said they wouldn’t mind using the tech to catch rogue drivers with obstructed or “ghost” plates — but the more likely scenario is the high-priced equipment being sold off at bargain-basement rates.

“These are brand new machines,” Borelli said. “Put them on the government version of Facebook Marketplace and try to convince some dope in California to buy them.

“The problem is they’re selling them selling second-hand, so no one is going to pay the bloated price the MTA seems to pay for everything.”

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