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Biden administration moves to protect Alaska wilderness; opening statements and first witness in NY trial; SCOTUS hears Starbucks case, with implications for unions on the line; rural North Carolina town gets pathway to home ownership.

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The Supreme Court weighs cities ability to manage a growing homelessness crisis, anti-Israeli protests spread to college campuses nationwide, and more states consider legislation to ban firearms at voting sites and ballot drop boxes.

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Wyoming needs more educators who can teach kids trade skills, a proposal to open 40-thousand acres of an Ohio forest to fracking has environmental advocates alarmed and rural communities lure bicyclists with state-of-the-art bike trail systems.

NYC 'congestion pricing' faces massive backlash

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Friday, January 5, 2024   

New York City's "congestion pricing" plan is set to start later this year, despite widespread opposition.

The plan calls for drivers entering Manhattan's Central Business District, defined as all streets below 60th, to pay a toll. Proponents argue it will boost public-transportation use and cut air pollution, but lawmakers and community activists disagree.

Michele Birnbaum, founder of The Coalition in Opposition to Congestion Pricing, predicted this plan will merely transfer Manhattan's traffic problems to other areas, and also increase air pollution.

"The traffic will increase in the areas outside the zone, causing noise pollution and congestion in those areas," she said. "They'll be cruising with vehicles and for-hire vehicles to go into the zone. They'll be cruising for parking spots."

One assessment shows air pollution will increase in the Bronx, Staten Island and into New Jersey. The City of Fort Lee and State of New Jersey have filed lawsuits about the program's effects. Most recently, the United Federation of Teachers president and Staten Island's borough president filed a lawsuit citing the environmental impacts.

The MTA will hold several public comment sessions starting on Feb. 29.

The only roads exempt from the program are the Battery Park Underpass, the West Side Highway and FDR Drive. Bus companies have been wondering if they'll get an exemption from the tax, and Birnbaum said she wonders how the program will have a future if it's successful.

"They want to eliminate cars and trucks coming into the zone," she said, "but if they eliminate it enough, they don't get their target money."

However, a study from U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., found that MTA stands to make around $3.4 billion annually from the program, well over MTA's estimate of $1 billion.

Public feedback has been mixed, with some noting it will force the MTA to make improvements to mass transit. Given this uncertainty, Birnbaum said she thinks the congestion-pricing introduction should have been handled differently.

"Our mayor is sort of buckling on this a little bit," she said. "If they felt so strongly about it, put it up for a vote. Instead, somebody introduced it into the budget."

A Siena College/Newsday poll found more than 70% of Long Islanders are opposed to congestion pricing. Nassau County's government set up a petition for people to sign opposing congestion pricing, too.


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