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City passes congestion pricing plan

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In the vote, which occurred shortly before 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, Queens Council members turned down the proposal by a margin of 9-to-5. As of last week, only City Councilmen John Liu (D-Flushing) and Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) were publicly in favor of the legislation from the borough, but they were joined by Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), Tom White (D-Jamaica) and James Sanders (D-Laurelton) as the tally was taken.Though the majority of Queens representatives panned the plan, Council members from Manhattan and the Bronx voted unanimously in favor of the plan, which if approved by the state will place an $8 fee on cars coming into Manhattan below 60th Street on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.At a press conference following the vote, Bloomberg applauded the favorable vote and commended its supporters for having "the courage to stand up and do what was right."City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), chairman of the Council's Environmental Protection Committee, offered a less optimistic view."The mayor cut a lot of deals with Council members, offering them fund-raisers and other kinds of inducements to get them to vote for a bill that they didn't believe in. That's what happened here. Shame on them," Gennaro said.Council members Gennaro, Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), David Weprin (D-Hollis), Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) and Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) voted against the plan.Polls have indicated that opposition to the proposal is widespread in Queens, and several of the borough's politicians and community leaders have derided the concept as an unfair tax on residents who are underserved by mass transit options.The legislation will now go before the state Legislature, which must approve the plan by April 7 to make the city eligible for $354 million in federal funding that Bloomberg says will go toward short-term transit improvements. As part of an agreement with the U.S. Transportation Department the improvements would be put in place before the implementation of congestion pricing and include the creation of seven new bus routes in Queens and additional buses on 13 existing bus routes headed toward Manhattan.Liu, who heads the Council's Transportation Committee,said the responsibility for carrying congestion pricing will fall squarely on the shoulders of Bloomberg and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should it be passed by the state next week."The big leap of faith, of course, is that the MTA can be relied upon, which I think with the new leadership I'm more confident with than I have been in previous years," he said.State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), an active opponent of the plan, called the changes inadequate and said he did not expect the plan to get by the Assembly. He chided the City Council for approving the plan on the state's self-imposed congestion pricing deadline of March 31."We're working on the budget right now and the only time that congestion pricing has come up it's been booed and ridiculed," Lancman said. "We're not going to jump through hoops and call time out on the state's budget's process because the Council wasn't finished with its horse-trading until 6 p.m. on the day of the deadline."While both White and Sanders had said they had concerns about congestion pricing, each said they were undecided heading into the vote.Gioia, who had said publicly he was against the plan as recently as last month, said he believes the city must act now and while the plan is "not perfect," it has improved substantially. The legislation passed by the Council Monday is a slightly tweaked version of the plan Bloomberg presented a year ago. The most notable changes included the adjustment of the congestion fee zone border from 86th Street to 60th Street, the addition a residential parking permit plan and exemptions for certain low-income and handicapped drivers.Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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