RELEASE: Gottheimer, Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich Announce New Class Action Lawsuit to Stop New York’s Congestion Tax

Plaintiffs Include North Jersey Commuter with Asthma. Cash-grabbing $23/day Congestion Tax will cause truck traffic and toxic air pollution in NJ

Nov 01, 2023
Press

Above: Gottheimer announcing a new lawsuit to stop NY’s Congestion Tax.

FORT LEE, NJ — Today, November 1, 2023, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, attorney Bruce Nagel, and state and local officials announced a new class action lawsuit that has been filed to put a stop to New York and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) anti-environment, anti-commuter, and anti-business $23-a-day-Congestion Tax.

Plaintiffs include Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and Richard Galler, a Fort Lee resident and commuter who suffers from asthma. The class action lawsuit, filed against the MTA, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Authority, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, and Traffic Mobility Review Board, argues that the Congestion Tax will result in more truck and car traffic near the George Washington bridge, and in nearby communities, because drivers will avoid the Congestion Tax at the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. This will increase toxic air pollution in New Jersey. 

The new class action lawsuit seeks:

  • An immediate stop to the Congestion Tax.
  • A full and proper environmental study from the Department of Transportation that includes the impact on Jersey.
  • If the court does not stop the Congestion Tax, New York must provide funding for a medical monitoring program to evaluate and treat respiratory distress and asthma resulting from the Congestion Tax.

The lawsuit from Nagel Rice LLP can be found here.

New York and the MTA admit in their reporting that the Congestion Tax will hurt the environment and increase air pollution:

  • More cars and trucks will be diverted to Northern New Jersey and the outer boroughs just outside of the tolling zone — hurting lower income families. 
  • There will be increases in traffic, pollutants, and mobile air toxins through 2045 in the Bronx, Staten Island, Nassau County, and Bergen County (pages 10-21, 10-37, and 10-40). 
  • There will be increases in particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide in Bergen County, as well as carcinogens like formaldehyde (pages 10–26 through 10-34). 
  • It is reported that Bergen County could face countless more trucks to Fort Lee.
  • The MTA is prepared to spend $130 million from tolling to try to mitigate the Congestion Tax’s negative environmental impacts on families in the Bronx and parts of the outer boroughs. However, New Jersey will receive no funding as a part of the MTA’s plan.
  • The MTA’s proposed solutions include installing new air filtration units near schools, more vegetation, and spending $25 million on an asthma treatment program due to the Congestion Tax — an admission of environmental guilt. New Jersey will receive no funding as a part of the MTA’s plan.

“Think about everyone you know, including children with asthma and grandparents with other breathing and health problems — they will all suffer because of New York’s cash-grabbing $23/day Congestion Tax. Our families will be lining up at the doctors’ offices, while the MTA lines their pockets with our dollars,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “The goal of the lawsuit is to stop the Congestion Tax plan in its tracks. Force the Department of Transportation to conduct a full, proper environmental study. And if that fails, and the MTA continues to hang up E-Z Pass sensors and cameras, New York must provide health care for all of our families who develop breathing and other health issues from their cancer-causing Congestion Tax. You’d think they’d be worried about our children. Instead, New York is moving ahead and spreading their hush money to buy off the Bronx and elsewhere because they know what they are doing is wrong. But hey, they need to cash.”

“We all believe that congestion pricing is going to add to the traffic in Fort Lee and will add to pollution. My doctor explained to me that when air pollution is increased, it is like adding a cigarette to your day,” said plaintiff Richard Galler who suffers from asthma. 

“Because of this initiative, by their own admission, we’re hearing that we run the risk of an additional twenty percent traffic at this bridge and with that comes pollutants, filth, and dirt. It impacts everybody in my borough and the region. There is a reason why we’re all here today. There is a gentleman that put us all together — the lawyers, the support, the public support — it’s a gentleman that has had more of an impact on the Borough of Fort Lee in the last couple years than anyone else that I can possibly remember in my sixteen years of serving. I introduce with great pride, privilege, and pleasure our Congressman Josh Gottheimer that made this all possible and on behalf of Fort Lee we want to extend our warmest thanks,” said Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. 

“This congestion pricing will wreak havoc on the citizens of New Jersey and we will do everything we can to legally stop it,” said Attorney Bruce Nagel, representing Mayor Mark Sokolich and Richard Galler.

“We’re proud to stand with Congressman Gottheimer and we applaud local residents for joining the state’s battle against the MTA’s unreasonable congestion pricing plan. All this scheme will accomplish is dramatically shifting traffic and air pollution to North Jersey communities, including those in Bergen County. Hardworking New Jersey residents should not need to sacrifice their economic and environmental welfare for the benefit of our New York neighbors, who have now spent months disregarding our concerns,” said Assemblywoman Lisa Swain and Assemblyman Chris Tully.

“I stand firmly opposed to congestion pricing as it places an unfair financial burden on the residents of New Jersey,” said Bergen County Commissioner Chair Pro Tempore Joan Voss. “We are very fortunate to have such a relentless advocate like Congressman Josh Gottheimer working to fight against this careless policy.”

Gottheimer was joined today in Fort Lee by Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, attorney Bruce Nagel, Senator Gordon Johnson, Assembly Members Lisa Swain, Chris Tully, and Shama Haider, Bergen County Commissioners Dr. Joan Voss and Rafael Marte, and Fort Lee Councilmembers Ila Kasofsky and Bryan Drumgoole.

Watch today’s announcement here.

Below: Gottheimer, Mayor Sokolich, and Assembly Members Chris Tully and Lisa Swain announcing a new lawsuit to stop NY’s Congestion Tax.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Mayor, for welcoming us to Fort Lee, and thank you to the incredible team of elected officials here. Thank you, Bruce, for leading the legal fight. All of you have been critical in our fight against the Congestion Tax and to protecting Jersey families from polluted air, more traffic, and more expensive commutes.

Today marks a huge next step in the fight against New York’s commuter crushing Congestion Tax. If the MTA gets its way, next spring, hard-working Jersey families will be stuck with a new $23 dollar a day — $5,000 dollar a year — Congestion Tax just to drive to work in New York City. That’s on top of the $17 dollars they pay a day already to cross the bridge or go into the tunnel. That’s on top of parking, it’s on top of gas, and the billions of dollars Jersey residents pay every year to New York in income taxes. 

Whether you’re a nurse, electrician, or cop, for Jersey commuters, that’s $100 dollars a day just to drive into New York City – that’s before your first cup of coffee. 

A nurse’s median salary is about $70,000 dollars. How can we expect them to afford driving to the city?

The tolls and parking alone, when you add it up, will knock their salary down to about $40,000 dollars a year. That’s before they pay rent, before they feed their family, before they pay for healthcare or anything else.

And, because some people just won’t be able to afford to commute anymore, the Port Authority will lose a billion dollars in investment for capital projects over the next decade — eliminating projects at the airports, bridges, and tunnels that will actually increase options for public transportation in Jersey. This also means fewer jobs for hardworking men and women of labor and fewer infrastructure improvements here in Jersey. And the promised new bus terminal in New York City to replace the outdated current one? No idea how we’re going to pay for that. 

Because of the Congestion Tax, come next spring, trucks will be backed up right here at the GW Bridge, as far as the eye can see, billowing cancer-causing pollution into the lungs of children in this community. Plumes of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and even formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, into Northern New Jersey and the outer boroughs. 

Don’t take my word for it: ask the MTA. All of this is in black and white in the report the MTA submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation – that’s the same agency that decided to ignore the MTA’s alarming findings and rubber stamp their application for a Congestion Tax without an in-depth environmental review. Yes, the MTA admitted that the Congestion Tax will cause more cancer-causing pollution and more traffic. But because they’re so desperate for the cash to fix their woefully mismanaged MTA, the same agency that lost $700 million alone to fare skippers, they’re willing to barrel ahead anyway. That’s how craven they are. It’s a massive MTA bail out for an agency that just can’t do anything right. 

Back in July, we stood together with Governor Murphy to announce New Jersey’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation over the Congestion Tax. I said that I don’t know how the MTA Chairman looks at himself in the mirror. I told him to come to Fort Lee and look Mayor Sokolich in the eye and tell him why it’s okay to give cancer to the children here. I also said that the fight was just beginning. 

That’s why we are back in Fort Lee today, because here in Jersey, we just don’t take a punch, we punch back. This is about protecting hard-working Jersey families. 

That’s why today, I’m proudly supporting Mayor Sokolich and Richard Galler as we announce another punch back — another lawsuit — to stop New York’s commuter-crushing, cancer-causing Congestion Tax. 

You’ll hear from Bruce Nagel, one of the top lawyers in New Jersey who is representing them and will lay out the case. The Mayor and Richard Galler, a Fort Lee resident and commuter who suffers from asthma, have filed a class action lawsuit against the MTA, the Traffic Mobility Review Board, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and other parties pushing the Congestion Tax plan in New York.

They’re all barreling ahead with this Congestion Tax plan. Today, we’re draining the fuel out of their cancer-causing engine.

Richard, who unfortunately can’t be here today, wanted me to read this to you. He said his doctor told him that when air pollution is increased, it’s like adding a cigarette to your day. 

It’s a hard fact that the Congestion Tax will result in far more truck and car traffic near the GW bridge, and in nearby communities, as folks do everything they can to avoid driving into the Congestion Tax zone which they would hit going through the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. As I mentioned earlier, this will increase toxic air pollution for our Jersey families, including Richard Galler who has asthma and is a regular commuter. 

Think about everyone you know, including children with asthma and grandparents with other breathing and health problems — they will all suffer because of New York’s cash-grabbing Congestion Tax. 

Our families will be lining up at the doctors’ offices, while the MTA lines their pockets with our dollars. 

The goal of the lawsuit is to stop the Congestion Tax plan in its tracks. Force the Department of Transportation to conduct a full, proper environmental study. 

And if that fails, and the MTA continues to hang up E-Z Pass sensors and cameras, New York must provide health care for all of our families who develop breathing and other health issues from their cancer-causing Congestion Tax. 

MTA Chairman Janno Lieber, knows the harm the Congestion Tax will cause. To mitigate the effects of the cancer-causing pollution in New York from the massive new influx of trucks, Lieber is giving the Bronx $130 million dollars for air filtration units near schools and an asthma treatment program. Not a penny to Jersey.

For the MTA, this is just a giant cash grab. We all know that. Their $3 billion dollar budget deficit was caused by woeful mismanagement — they lost $700 million dollars last year to fare skippers as I said — so they need Jersey to pour our hard-earned dollars into their bottomless pit. 

Not a nickel will go to Jersey to invest in our mass transit. Not a nickel to address the environmental and health impacts from the Congestion Tax. Not a nickel to mitigate the traffic. 

You’d think they’d be worried about our children. Instead, they’re moving ahead and spreading their hush money to buy off the Bronx and elsewhere because they know what they are doing is wrong. But hey, they need to cash. 

When I sounded the alarm on New York’s plan four years ago, along with the Mayor, Senator, Assembly, and Council members here, I said that we’d had enough of New York looking to Jersey as their piggy bank to solve their years of criminal mismanagement at the MTA — the worst run mass transit system in the country. A judge even once referred to the MTA as an “orgy of overtime fraud.”

And we certainly aren’t going to sit back as New York plans to poison our families’ air.

For now, the MTA continues to meet in New York to discuss how badly they’re planning to stick it to New Jersey — without any input from us. They continue to release new tolling scenario after new scenario, which do nothing to actually help our families. Now, they’ll have to answer to the Mayor, Rich, and other Jersey families whose health will be greatly damaged by the Congestion Tax – under the legal leadership of Bruce Nagel.  

New York needs to wake up and realize that they are on the verge of blowing a hundred years of cooperation with the Port Authority. What they should do is clean up the MTA and find another way with New York’s $229 billion-dollar annual budget to pay their own bills. I don’t know, take the $600 million of state tax dollars they’re sending over to the owners of the Buffalo Bills to build their new stadium. Just please don’t make that hard-working cop or nurse, who has an overnight shift in your hospital, pick up the tab. 

Finally, we may be up against New York. But none of us here – not the Governor or my colleagues in the Congressional delegation — none of the hardworking men and women of labor – none of Jersey commuters I talk to every day about this, will stop fighting. This is about our hard-working families — and the air they breathe and their pocketbooks. 

That’s how I know here in the greatest state, in the greatest country, our best days will always be ahead of us. 

Thank you, and may God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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