Traffic is pictured at twilight along 42nd St. in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., March 27, 2019.
Traffic is pictured at twilight along 42nd St. in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., March 27, 2019. Reuters / CARLO ALLEGRI

Governor Kathy Hochul said on Thursday the Biden administration is seeking changes in a long-planned congestion pricing plan for New York City that could further delay implementation of a system designed to reduce traffic in Manhattan and provide funding to improve mass transit.

In March 2021, the U.S. Transportation Department's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) said the plan to use tolls to manage traffic in central Manhattan would face an expedited environmental review, after the Trump administration did not act on it.

"We submitted our plans on time to Washington in February, and by March, the federal government came back with over 400 questions and areas they want us to make adjustments," the New York governor said Thursday. "It's probably not going to happen right now because we cannot get the necessary approvals from the federal government."

New York wants to charge a daily variable toll for vehicles entering or remaining within the "Central Business District," an area stretching from 60th Street in Midtown Manhattan down to Battery Park, Manhattan's southern tip.

The FHWA's deputy administrator, Stephanie Pollack, told reporters Thursday the agency was working to resolve questions.

"We gave our comments to them months ago. We pretty much have gotten a path forward or a resolution on almost every single one of them," Pollack said, saying the agency will work "to get this done by whatever time it's important" to the state, city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which operates New York City's subway system and buses, as well as its two commuter rail lines.

The plan was first approved by state lawmakers in April 2019 and initially project to start in January 2021.

"We need more people taking the subways, the trains, mass transit into the city, and we need more people leaving their cars home," Hochul said Thursday. "I am committed to getting it done."

The MTA would receive 80% of the congestion fees after costs of operating the program to be used to improve the city's subways and buses, with 10% each going to the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad commuter train lines.

According to the MTA, the system would help speed traffic flows and reduce pollution, in addition to raising money for mass transit.

New York would become the first major U.S. city to follow London, which began levying a congestion charge on vehicles driving into the city center in 2003.

Officials have said the estimated $1 billion in annual tolls would support $15 billion in new debt financing over four years to support mass transit.

Hochul said at a gubernatorial debate Tuesday that the federal government put "hurdles in the way" and "this is going to happen over the next year under any circumstances, but now is not the right time."

The U.S. Transportation deputy secretary, Polly Trottenberg, said Thursday the department was working with New York: "We are very committed to helping them get through the process."