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Congestion commission eyes scaled-back plans

The city held its final public hearings on congestion pricing last Thursday in each of the city's five boroughs, giving the public a final chance to voice their opinions on the plan and several proposed alternatives ahead of the decision, which needs to be made by Jan. 31. Under the mayor's original plan, cars would be charged $8 and trucks charged $21 to enter Manhattan below 86th Street. Cars and trucks traveling solely within the zone would also be charged, but at a reduced rate. The New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, a 17-member bipartisan group appointed to investigate congestion pricing and other alternatives to reducing traffic in the city, has been deliberating on five plans since early September. At hearings in recent weeks, the commission has indicated it will favor a scaled back version of the mayor's plan, which would move the border for the congestion pricing zone down to 60th Street and eliminate the fare for vehicles traveling solely within the zone. Proposed alternatives to the plan include putting tolls on the East River bridges and sharply increasing the parking meter rates in Manhattan. Queens has been a key battleground in the congestion pricing fight since Bloomberg first proposed it in April, and several groups lobbying on either side of the plan testified at the Queens hearing at York College Performing Arts Center last Thursday night. Former City Councilman Walter McCaffrey has been lobbying hard against the plan for Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free and called both the hearing and the commission's approval process into question. "When something is this flawed from the beginning and gets to the point where the final public hearings will take place all on one night, tonight, six different locations Ð it is time to stop the process," he said. "The Fool's Gold masquerading as revenue has never been guaranteed or earmarked to improve mass transit. The city is right about one thing: 'the gig is up.' And the commissioners have already made up their minds, much to the public's dismay and disadvantage." On the other side of the coin, supporters of the mayor's proposal - many of whom have gathered under the umbrella of Campaign for New York's Future - focused primarily on isolating congestion pricing as the best of the plans on the table. "Which ever plan the commission ultimately selects, we cannot afford to wait another day to clean our air, end the gridlock and give New Yorkers the efficient transit system we have been waiting for," said Dan Hendrick of the New York League of Conservation Voters. Once the commission makes its decision, the plan will head to the City Council for consideration before being shipped off to the state Legislature for final approval. Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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