U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey has a new plan to help his state’s drivers avoid costly New York City tolls and bridge fees, as well as save them the hours spent commuting. Simply, don’t do it.

“Today is the day we take our stand,” Gottheimer said, standing on the side of a Paramus highway Wednesday, in front of a podium with a sign that read, “Stay in Jersey.”

He continued, “Rather than pay the absurd congestion price, rather than pay the expensive tolls, deal with traffic, why not make life easier? Why not stay in New Jersey?” 

Gottheimer, a Democrat, was expressing his opposition to the MTA’s congestion pricing program, which would charge drivers who enter Manhattan below 60th Street a fee, calling it a way to “rip off” New Jersey drivers who already pay bridge and tunnel tolls to enter New York.

He represents a swath of New Jersey residents from the Pennsylvania border to just across the Hudson River in a district that’s been so gerrymandered that it resembles the shape of a gun pointed at Manhattan. 

Using 2015 Census data, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that a little more than 1% of residents in most legislative districts in New Jersey drive into Manhattan for work and would be subject to the congestion charge. The survey found that 77.5% of New Jersey residents who work in Manhattan take public transportation to get there.

More recently, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council found in 2019 that just 13% of the vehicles that enter the Central Business District are from New Jersey.

The goal of congestion pricing is for the MTA to raise much-needed revenue. The agency is hoping to use the $1 billion it expects to generate annually from congestion pricing to sell bonds worth $15 billion that can fund the latter parts of its current $51.5 billion capital plan, which is underway now.  The various elements of the capital plan are expected to improve service by installing new signals, more elevators, and buying new train cars and buses. The money is not meant to cover day-to-day operating expenses. 

Proponents of the plan note that the purpose is to charge drivers a rate that reflects their use of the roads, which factors in damage to the environment and the space vehicles take up, which delays buses and people in vehicles. The rate is also meant to be high enough to deter many people from driving and make public transportation a more attractive option. 

The MTA’s congestion pricing program was first delayed by former President Trump, and now the agency is working to answer more than 400 questions that President Joe Biden's administration has posed regarding the program. MTA Chairman Janno Lieber said recently he expects it could be up and running by 2024. 

This summer an MTA panel is expected to meet to hammer out the costs to drivers and any possible exemptions, other than the ones in the legislation already passed.

“The Central Business District Tolling Program is intended to reduce vehicle congestion and support investment in mass transit, which benefits everyone who lives in, works in, or visits the Central Business District,”  MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan wrote in a statement.

During his press conference, Gottheimer said he’s hoping to offer tax breaks to New York-based companies that open satellite offices for their employees who live in New Jersey. He said he was in talks with several companies, but Gothamist's request for information about which companies has not yet been returned. 

Gov. Phil Murphy’s office did not respond to requests for comment about Gottheimer’s campaign.