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NJ Gov. Murphy lawyers up to block New York congestion pricing toll plan

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has lawyered up — putting New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and President Biden on notice that he’s itching to file a lawsuit to block the MTA’s controversial plan to impose the nation’s first congestion pricing toll system through Manhattan’s central business district.

Murphy announced Tuesday he’s hired pit bull lawyers Randy Mastro and Craig Carpenito to explore all legal options to stop the congestion pricing plan  — about the same time that Hochul held a victory lap press conference with Metropolitan Transportation Authority boss Janno Lieber celebrating the Biden administration’s approval of it.

“The Federal Highway Administration’s decision to green-light the MTA’s proposed tolling program marks yet another slight against hardworking New Jerseyans in favor of an agency concerned not with removing vehicles from our roads, but with lining its own coffers,” said Murphy spokesman Bailey Lawrence.

“While we are not necessarily opposed to a carefully crafted congestion pricing proposal, we are deeply disappointed by the FHWA’s limited review and skeptical of the motives of a financially ailing agency that has failed to meaningfully engage with our administration on this issue. To that end, we have retained Randy Mastro and Craig Carpenito of King & Spalding to explore all of our legal options, and we anticipate announcing a course of action soon.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivered his budget address to a joint session of the Legislature at the statehouse, in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, Feb. 28.

The Murphy rep added, “We will continue to stand resolutely against a tolling scheme that will disproportionately burden environmental justice communities and severely harm our commuters and transit agencies.”

Murphy, a Democrat, even launched an ad campaign in May to woo New York residents and businesses to relocate to the Garden State in protest of the congestion pricing plan.

The MTA has yet to set the exact amount for the toll but has signaled it will range between $9 and $23 per day to drive a car into the Central Business District. The congestion pricing system could be installed by next spring.

Mastro claimed the feds approved the congestion plan without conducting an extensive review of the environmental impact.

People wait to drive through the heavily congested Holland Tunnel into New York City during morning rush hour traffic in Jersey City, New Jersey.

 “It’s not right. It just doesn’t pass the smell test. We are taking a deep legal dive,” he told The Post.

“New York needs to find other ways to finance its transportation system.”

Hochul defended the plan when asked about Murphy’s expected legal offensive to thwart congestion pricing.

“I won’t be commenting on pending litigation,” she said.

“Everything we’re doing here is for the benefit of New Yorkers and people in the entire commuting range,” she added. “Twenty-eight million people will benefit from the investments we’re going to continue to make, not just for New Yorkers but for the entire system that serves the neighboring states as well.”

Hochul admitted many answers regarding the price of peak and off-peak tolls have yet to be decided. The traffic mobility review board will come up with the pricing range in the coming months.

A truck, left, travels westbound off the George Washington Bridge as commuters line up to cross a toll plaza

MTA Chairman Lieber said he expects the tolling plan to be in place in 10 months.

Congestion pricing supporters doubt that opponents can scuttle the plan, noting the years of study of the issue.

The federal government allowed the MTA to move ahead with an expedited environmental review in March 2021 shortly after Joe Biden was sworn in as president, following two years of delays under then-President Donald Trump.

But that quicker review ended up taking more than two years and the final version of the report spans more than 4,800 pages.

It found that the higher tolls could slash the number of cars driving on the local streets in Manhattan’s Central Business District by as much as 60 percent.

However, it also revealed that some of that traffic could be diverted to outer-borough or New Jersey expressways. That’s unfair, Murphy’s lawyer Mastro said.

The MTA has promised to pay for up to $200 million in programs to offset the pollution gains, including contributing to City Hall’s major initiative to electrify the dirty diesel-burning Hunts Point food market in the Bronx.  

Bronx Congressman Ritchie Torres, who attended the press conference and a one-time critic of the plan for diverting trucks to his poor district, mentioned the new anti-pollution efforts as a reason now to back it.

New York officials were also perplexed at the Jersey outrage, noting that Big Apple and Empire State motorists and other out-of-staters pay tolls to traverse Jersey roadways — the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.