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Local News November 20, 2008  RSS feed

BACK TO TUNNEL PLAN?

Port Authority Again Explores Cross Harbor Freight Project
by Robert Pozarycki and Sam Goldman

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has announced a plan to resume an Environmental Impact Statement for the Cross Harbor Tunnel as part of plan to address regional freight transportation issues.

The plan was announced on Thursday, Nov. 13 during a meeting convened by PA Executive Director Christopher Ward. Joining in the meeting were state Department of Transportation Commissioner Astrid Glynn, city DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan.

The meeting's goal was to devise a long-term plan to "develop solutions to the issue of how to continue to move billions of dollars in freight ... throughout an already congested bistate region," according to a Nov. 13 press release.

The three stated goals of the EIS, which is scheduled to be complete by 2010, are to increase the region's competitiveness, decrease traffic congestion and reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our efforts to move freight by barge and rail in this extremely congested urban region is just common sense," Ward said. "It removes trucks from the bridges, tunnels and highways, and allows for a more efficient flow of goods between the two states. This is the type of unique opportunity we must continue to explore to address the region's freight movement challenges."

"I am thrilled that this essential project is moving forward," Nadler added. "This is not simply an important transportation proposal but would be a huge boon to our region's economy, to our workforce, to our environment, and to our connection to the rest of the world."

A spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the Times Newsweekly that the mayor's "concerns remain the same." Bloomberg opposed the project in 2005.

The project

As proposed in an EIS completed by the city's Economic Development Corporation in 2005, the Cross Harbor Tunnel project would create a rail link between Jersey City and Brooklyn, connecting the region east of the Hudson River to the national rail network.

The tunnel would link to the Long Island Rail Road's Bay Ridge branch, which slices across Brooklyn and terminates at the Fresh Pond Railyard in Glendale, where it links to the Montauk branch of the Long Island Rail Road and the CSX rail line.

Under the project, an intermodal facility was to be constructed in Maspeth along the LIRR Montauk line, where cargo would be offloaded onto trucks which would then travel through the area.

Currently, the only other rail link across the Hudson River is located in Albany 100 miles north of New York City and operated by CSX, adding over 200 miles in travel for freight goods heading to points south and west of New York City.

The press release also announced that the Port Authority had acquired control of the New York New Jersey Rail Corporation based in Jersey City, The group operates a rail float barge facility that transports cargo between the two states. The agency also assumed an existing lease for 27 acres of land in the Greenville Yard in Jersey City in connection with the rail float operation.

The barge allows rail cars to be moved across New York Harbor to two terminals in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The cars are then brought to businesses, offloaded and shipped to other points by truck, or transported by rail eastward to Long Island. This provides a shortcut across the East River, as opposed to the Albany rail route.

'Thinking in the 20th century'

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5, which includes the Maspeth location where the intermodal would be constructed, reiterated the advisory body's longstanding opposition to the plan in an interview with the Times Newsweekly.

He stated that the tunnel is currently not necessary, with piers in Sunset Park already connecting float barges with the Bay Ridge train line.

"The only argument I got from [the Department of Sanitation] on that is that the Department is experimenting with 12'-high cars that would not fit under some of the existing road bridges over the Bay Ridge branch," he noted. However, according to Arcuri, building the Cross Harbor Tunnel would require the city to modify the bridges and road beds along the line anyway.

Arcuri also called the plan fiscally wasteful. "In these economic times, they're talking about spending money to plan and design this tunnel," which could take 10 to 12 years to complete, he said. "There's got to be better things that the PA can do with their money."

Finally, he brought attention to the impact that a proposed multilevel Maspeth intermodal would bring, calculating that it could bring over 6,400 additional trucks every week, 914 a day, operating on a 24/7 basis.

"Economically, they would be hauling long-distance freight shipments that could conceivably come from the West Coast," he stated. "Hundred-car freight trains could come in up the hill into the [Fresh Pond] Yard and stretch to 88th Street," potentially making the roadway—currently with an atgrade rail crossing—impassable.

Arcuri stated that the better approach would be to evaluate other options while the float barges are able to handle capacity; "at some point, it might not be sufficient capacity to meet needs," he admitted, "but that gives time to study the alternatives."

The Cross Harbor Tunnel "would cost billions. The cost of it doesn't work," he said. "There's no return on the investment. Ecologically, it doesn't save anything. The cost of shipping might be less, but that's the hauler who gets paid for that."

"They're still thinking in the 20th century, not the 21st century," he lamented.