- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

(AP) - The federal government has agreed to pay $354 million to New York City to help it start an ambitious plan to reduce traffic by charging tolls for driving into the busiest parts of Manhattan.

New York’s effort, called congestion pricing, would be the first such toll program in the United States. Similar programs exist in London and Singapore.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has touted the toll plan to reduce gridlock and pollution, but federal support was jeopardized by weeks of haggling among New York state leaders before they struck a compromise agreement on congestion pricing.

“We’ve worked very hard to secure these funds,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “I think this is a major victory for the people of New York City.”

Nine cities were competing for a pot of money targeted toward innovative local traffic solutions. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters announced the funding yesterday for New York along with San Francisco, Miami, Seattle and Minneapolis.

San Francisco is due to get $158 million; Miami will receive $62.9 million to build “hot lanes,” in which drivers pay extra to bypass traffic; and Seattle gets $138.7 million for a new floating bridge connecting the city to suburbs. The grant requires state officials to levy a toll for the bridge, which is estimated to cost at least $4 billion, Mrs. Peters said.

Another $133.3 million will go to Minneapolis, where divers are trying to find the remains of four missing motorists from a bridge collapse. Nine persons are already confirmed dead in the Aug. 1 catastrophe.

Atlanta, Denver, San Diego and Chicago also sought federal money but didn’t make the cut.

Mr. Bloomberg’s plan would charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to enter Manhattan south of 86th Street on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

New York opponents of congestion pricing argue that it won’t affect driver behavior enough to improve air quality or overall traffic patterns. They also say it amounts to a tax on middle-class New Yorkers who live outside Manhattan.

The federal decision does not guarantee funding, and it is not clear whether the deal struck weeks ago by New York state leaders will hold. Under that agreement, a commission will be formed to examine the overall concept of reducing traffic. After hearings and reviews, the group is to make a recommendation by the end of January.



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