The UFT and SI Beep file another weak lawsuit



When New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy saw that Garden State drivers would have to pay to enter Manhattan south of 60th St., he sued the feds in July to stop congestion pricing in New York. He argues in Newark Federal Court that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration had used the wrong level of evaluation during its environmental review of the project.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, there are three levels of review. The lowest tier is called categorical exclusion, meaning that there is no “significant effect on the human environment.” The middle tier is an environmental assessment and the most extensive scrutiny is an environmental impact statement.

We would have made the case for categorical exclusion, but the feds chose the mid level environmental assessment, having the MTA produce a 4,000 page report looking at every aspect of the tolling program, stretching from Connecticut to New Jersey and everywhere in between.

Murphy says that the more rigorous environmental impact statement was required in this instance and the MTA has to start over. Mind you, he says he supports congestion pricing, he just wants years more study of something that’s been studied for years and is supposed to start charging the $15 fee this spring.

In November, Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, who was the guy that Chris Christie’s goons sought to punish in 2013 with Bridgegate, brought his own federal lawsuit in Newark. He alleges that the U.S. DOT and FHWA failed to require an environmental impact statement and was wrong to allow an environmental assessment. Sokolich’s case has been assigned to the same judge as Murphy’s case (as it’s the exact same dispute).

Now comes Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, and Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella. They charge in their papers, filed in Brooklyn Federal Court, that U.S. DOT and FHWA failed to require an environmental impact statement and was wrong to allow an environmental assessment, specifically that “the FWHA’s truncated and incomplete federal review process ignored and failed to mitigate a litany of ‘significant impacts’ ” blah, blah, blah. We would think that their case should be transferred over to the same judge in Newark handling the two others.

What all three of these lawsuits seek is to stop congestion pricing and let drivers continue to freely enter the most crowded, most traffic-clogged, most polluted, most transit-rich section of New York. They cannot succeed.

Mulgrew and Fossella claim to speak for drivers and that drivers don’t benefit from congestion pricing, but they do as fewer cars entering Manhattan means faster trips for the cars that remain, saving those drivers time and gas.

Alleging a “Violation of the Right to Travel” is laughable, and could be used to knock down any tolls, anywhere. And they say that they don’t understand while there are toll credits for drivers using the four tunnels into the Manhattan zone.  The reason is that otherwise, there would be toll shopping via the East River bridges.

And regarding all those UFT members who drive to work, the free parking placards they get from the city is actually a taxable benefit, worth $50 a day in Manhattan. The IRS should be told about this untaxed perk.



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