(Bloomberg) -- New York could start charging drivers $15 to enter Manhattan as soon as mid-June, a lawyer for the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority told a judge at a hearing on New Jersey’s lawsuit to block the plan.

The MTA may decide on the final tolling structure by the end of March, attorney Mark Chertok told Judge Leo Gordon during a status conference Tuesday in Newark. That would lead to several further steps in the approval process. The toll, to be imposed on motorists driving into Manhattan’s central business district, would be the first of its kind in the US. 

While the MTA had said earlier that it could begin charging drivers as soon as late May or sometime in June, the lawyer’s comments in court Tuesday offer a clearer timeline. Gordon set oral arguments in New Jersey’s lawsuit for as soon as April 3, citing “the time pressures associated with this case.” 

Once the tolling structure is in place, the plan must go to the Federal Highway Administration to ensure the effects are consistent with the findings of an environmental assessment. The federal government and the plan’s sponsors — New York City and New York State — would then have to reach an agreement that would allow the tolling to start, Chertok said.

New Jersey’s lawsuit could also push back the start date. The suit has already delayed transit infrastructure upgrades set to be paid with congestion pricing revenue. 

‘Brazen Money Grab’

The toll has stirred intense controversy. Transit advocates and environmentalists say it would decrease traffic in one of the most congested neighborhoods in the nation, improve air quality and encourage more people to use mass transit instead of driving. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and US Congressman Josh Gottheimer say New Jersey drivers already pay bridge and tunnel tolls to get into Manhattan and that their residents shouldn’t have to finance New York City’s transit needs.

New Jersey sued the highway agency and the US Department of Transportation in July over the plan’s final approval, calling the project a “brazen money grab” that ignored numerous complaints from the state’s residents over the potential for increased traffic and pollution. 

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, requires US agencies to consider the environmental impact of any major federal project — which includes a city plan that uses federal funds — and conduct an assessment that includes public comment.

Big Projects on Hold

The suit is holding up major New York infrastructure initiatives. The MTA can’t move forward on a subway signal modernization project in Brooklyn until the legal challenges are resolved, and extending the Second Avenue subway to Harlem and accessibility upgrades are also at risk, according to the MTA, which runs New York City’s network of subways, buses and commuter rail lines and is implementing the new toll.

The MTA estimates the toll will bring in $1 billion a year, which it will borrow against to raise $15 billion for capital projects across its system. The plan is to charge passenger vehicles $15 once a day during peak periods to enter the district, which runs from 60th Street to the bottom of Manhattan, while trucks would pay $24 to $36. 

The MTA would give a credit to drivers paying tolls for the Lincoln, Holland and Queens-Midtown tunnels and the Hugh L. Carey bypass to the financial district from Brooklyn, also known as the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel.

The case is New Jersey v. US Department of Transportation, 23-cv-3885, US District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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