Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reversed Wednesday plans to auction takeoff and landing slots at the three major New York-area airports, and then told NY1 in an exclusive interview that the city could still receive federal transit aid if it implements congestion pricing.
LaHood talked about the decision with NY1's Political reporter Rita Nissan, and said he is now trying to get all the major players involved to find a new solution to ease congestion at area airports.
He said that the plan made by former President George Bush's administration plan to auction off takeoff and landing slots at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Airports did not make sense.
"I think it's a little contradictory to say on one hand we are going to limit the number of slots and actually take them back, and then say all of a sudden we are going to auction them off. I think it's a contradiction in the kind of activity people here are looking for," said LaHood.
The Bush administration created the plan to help alleviate air traffic congestion and create competition among the airlines.
LaHood said the best way to relieve flight congestion is through new technology, and said that New York is three to five years away from making the upgrades.
He also spoke about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's congestion pricing initiative, which would have charged drivers a fee for coming into parts of Manhattan.
The city was slated to receive about $350 million in federal transportation funds to implement the plan, but it was was stalled by State Assembly Democrats in Albany.
LaHood said the money is still there if lawmakers change their minds.
"The money that was going to be provided for that particular project is still at the Department of Transportation," said LaHood. "If New York got its act together around that kind of opportunity, I think we would look at it."
LaHood also shared with NY1 about being one of just two Republicans in President Barack Obama's cabinet and took on critics who said he doesn't have enough experience to be transportation secretary.
The transportation secretary announced the plan to call off the airport slots auctions this morning before The Association For A Better New York in Midtown Manhattan.
"We're extremely pleased with the announcement that the secretary made today," said Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward. "We thought the ill-advised auction slots proposed by the Bush administration would in no way have addressed the congestion flight delay problem. And by clearing that option off the table, we can now move forward with much more important initiatives like Next Gen, and bringing state-of-the-art GPS systems into our airport system."
Another outspoken critic of the auction plan, Senator Charles Schumer, also praised the move, saying the real solutions to air traffic problems are new technology and hiring more fully-trained air traffic controllers.
There will now be a 30-day comment period on the decision to cancel the auctions before it is finalized.