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Congestion pricing could cause more traffic, higher pollution in the Tri-State Area. Here's where

Climate Change: Protecting our Planet
Climate Change: Protecting our Planet 22:59

FORT LEE, N.J. -- The area near the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee is one of several the MTA projects will see increased traffic and therefore pollution because of congestion pricing.

CBS New York recently visited the area on a weekday afternoon. Traffic was moving.

Local resident Richard Galler said it was a good day because he was able to leave his house, adding a few times a week there's bumper-to-bumper traffic paralyzing the borough.

"I've had asthma for years, but the problem is as pollution increases it gets worse," Galler said.

"They have to take steps like keeping windows shut when it's a beautiful day. That's no way to live," Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said.

The fear is that will become more frequent once congestion pricing starts. The mayor said there is an anticipated 20% increase in traffic volume.

MTA's assessment calls for uptick in pollutants in some areas

Galler and the borough of Fort Lee are suing the MTA over its congestion pricing plan, which is set to take effect in June. However, the MTA's own environmental assessment predicts vehicles and trucks will divert around Manhattan to avoid the toll.

It says the diversions will be "most pronounced at the approach to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in Queens, across the South Bronx and the George Washington Bridge, and into northern New Jersey. Diversions to the south would occur across the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and through Staten Island."

The MTA study forecasts an increase in all pollutants in Bergen County, parts of Staten Island and the South Bronx.

Particulate matter includes dust, dirt, soot and smoke.

Concerns about asthma continue to grow  

At the nonprofit South Bronx United, the team tracks 20 air quality monitors set up in what's known as "Asthma Alley,' the neighborhoods surrounded by the Major Deegan Expressway, the Bruckner and the Cross Bronx Expressway.

"In some scenarios, hundreds more trucks traverse these expressways that surround us," said Arif Ullah, executive director of South Bronx United.

That's why additional air monitors are about to be installed.

Clean air program organizer Leslie Vásquez says already 1 in 4 area residents have asthma.

"There's certain spikes when trucks come into the area," Vásquez said. "Even just one additional truck is going to negatively impact our community."

On Staten Island, the impacts of congestion pricing are being called "an environmental injustice," with certain areas expected to see the biggest increase in air pollution.

The NAACP branch recently joined the borough's lawsuit against the MTA.

"This is an undue burden to our communities," Acting President Jasmine Robinson said.

Stats from the borough show in 2013 in Port Richmond, about 91 out of 1,000 children have asthma, which is much higher compared to the rest of New York City.

"That will not only affect those of us today but certainly for generations to come," said the Rev. Dr. Demetrius Carolina of First Central Baptist Church.

The MTA analysis did find 74% of areas it deemed "environmental justice" zones would experience a decrease in heavy duty diesel vehicles.

Can NYC expect same results as London?  

Michelle Li, the founder of Clever Carbon, researches vehicles' impact on climate change.

"In London, after the first year they implemented congestion zone pricing, they found that congestion decreased by 30% and pollution reduced by around 25% and similar studies cited in Singapore," Li said.

The MTA plans to have a zero-emissions bus fleet by 2040. It is also prepared to spend $130 million from tolling to try to mitigate the impacts on families in the Bronx and parts of outer boroughs.

Some proposed solutions include installing new air filtration units near schools, more vegetation and spending $25 million on an asthma treatment program.

"What will you do within the next couple of months? Words aren't enough," Vásquez said. "The data shows kids are missing out on school days because they're not able to attend because they have an asthma attack."

"Health is the single most important thing and that's what I'm trying to preserve," Sokolich said.

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