Bloomberg, Bush Allies on Congestion Pricing

The reigning Republican in New York City has kept his distance from the reigning Republican in Washington, D.C., but it turns out that they see eye-to-eye on congestion pricing.

In fact, the Bloomberg administration has said that it hopes to be able to fund all of the roughly $224 million in infrastructure costs to implement the fee with federal grants. To that end, Mr. Bloomberg on April 27 submitted a “conditional application” for a federal Department of Transportation grant—conditional because a lot of work has to be done before getting Governor Eliot Spitzer and the State Legislature behind the congestion-pricing idea.

The Mayor likes the idea because the charge should reduce traffic in the congestion zone, which according to his proposal would cover Manhattan south of 86th Street, and would also raise money for mass-transit projects. For the Bush administration, congestion pricing is good old-fashioned conservative ideology: replacing general tax revenues with user fees, and introducing an element of what detractors might call “privatizing the streets.”

For several years, certain stretches of road in Florida, California and other states have had higher tolls depending on the amount of traffic or the time of day. The Mayor is applying for a grant under the Urban Partnership Agreement, a new federal program that will give up to $1.2 billion to up to five cities to test strategies for reducing congestion. Tolling—what the feds call “value pricing”—is at the top of the list of options.

“The secretary supports congestion initiatives, and we are eager to review the application,” said D.O.T. spokesman Brian Turmail, referring to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. “Nationwide, we are looking at where we get the best test case to try out congestion pricing.”

The deadline was April 30, but Mr. Turmail said that the agency would be willing to work with Mr. Bloomberg as City Hall completes its application over the next two months. He wouldn’t name the other applicants, but they are believed to include Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz., as well as Minneapolis and San Francisco.