Opinion

Congestion mitigation is a concept whose time has come. It is time to create an urban environment for the 21st century. For more than 300,000 Long Island residents, the daily commute to New York City is often a difficult one --- either because their mass transit experience is unpleasant and slow or because they sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic from their home to their office. Unfortunately, it's only going to get worse. Our region can expect more and more drivers on our streets, and riders in our buses and trains. But, as of now, we don't and won't have the funds to make real improvements to handle the overflow.

We must commit financial resources and our highest intellect to mass transit and freight solutions. New York is an international city. It is the financial center of the state and the country. We are competing in a global market. I worry that eventually the growing congestion and waning transportation infrastructure will make New York City's leadership a thing of the past. Our suburbs and outer boroughs depend on a vibrant and thriving city to survive.

That is why a state commission of elected officials and transportation experts have put forward a plan that would significantly reduce traffic while simultaneously adding billions of dollars to mass transit improvements. The idea is simple: charge all the drivers who enter Manhattan's central business district during working hours --- instead of just the ones who already pay --- a fee. The plan would reduce traffic by 8 percent in Long Island and across the region while earning $500 million a year that would go directly to mass transit projects such as modernization of the Long Island Rail Road and East Side Access --- projects that could cut commuters' trips by as much as 44 minutes a day, according to the Regional Plan Association. The reduced congestion will also help drivers who aren't commuting daily to Manhattan, freeing up roadways to save everyone time.

The main complaint against congestion pricing has been the cost to drivers. Yes, the current plan would charge $8 for a car trip and $21 for a truck trip into Manhattan below 60th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., even though only one-third of Long Island's 33,000 commuters will actually have to pony up because tolls paid at the Triborough Bridge, and Midtown and Battery Tunnels will count against the charge. The 275,000 other commuters won't pay because they take mass transit.

More important than the cost to a small percentage of commuters is the cost of maintaining the status quo and not implementing a congestion pricing plan. Millions more people will clog our roads over the next few decades without viable alternative mass transportation options, making daily commutes far more unbearable.

Perhaps most importantly, a congestion pricing plan will protect the economic future of New York City --- home to so many of the businesses that Long Island residents help run and build to support their families. The Partnership for New York City estimates that the cost to the regional economy of excess traffic is more than $13 billion a year. That's $13 billion that could create jobs, and improve our quality of life. Something must be done, and it must be done now.

New York has until the end of March to get its act together and approve a congestion pricing plan through the New York City Council and the state legislature; otherwise we forfeit more than $350 million pledged by the federal government to improve mass transit and begin implementing the plan.

A congestion pricing plan has my vote. The status quo in New York City and suburban transportation will not sustain our economy and our health for much longer.


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