FTA head says traffic debate isn’t over

The head of the Federal Transit Administration, James Simpson, told the city’s construction industry this morning that hopes for funding the region’s mass transit improvements did not die with the collapse of congestion pricing. 

During an appearance in front of the New York Building Congress, Simpson said Albany’s failure to vote on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing proposal — which would have qualified New York for $354 million in federal mass transit funds — was a “shame” and a “waste.” But, he said, it was not the end of the debate over the idea.

“You can still do dynamic pricing, maybe charge cars $8 for coming in between 6 and 9 in the morning, but make it free from 12 to 2,” he said.

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In addition, Simpson told reporters that the federal government could finance up to 80 percent of new bus rapid transit routes — something the Bloomberg administration has been eyeing — around the country this year.

That pool does not hinge on implementing congestion pricing in the city.
And the FTA has requested another, much smaller national pool of congestion-pricing money for next year’s budget. “New York would be at the top of any list” of applicants, he said.

Simpson warned that New Yorkers should not expect better bus and train service in rapidly-developing neighborhoods unless the city gets serious about charging cars that create gridlock in Manhattan.
Seattle, Miami, Minneapolis and San Francisco are all using federal transportation money to design congestion-fee programs, Simpson said, adding that he expected other cities to follow suit.

The head of the Building Congress, Dick Anderson, has long complained of the time crews waste while stuck in gridlock. Anderson lobbied hard for Bloomberg’s plan and continues to beat the drum for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s next capital plan, which faces a $17.5 billion funding gap.
Meanwhile, Simpson told the group that copper prices have soared 270 percent and steel prices have climbed 160 percent annually since 2003.

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