Cross Harbor Tunnel under consideration again

September 24, 2011 Helen Klein
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Seven years after a proposal to build a rail freight tunnelunder New York harbor between New Jersey and New York City groundto a halt after Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed his opposition toit, it’s back under the microscope, this time being examined by anagency that is not under mayoral control.

The Cross Harbor Tunnel proposal – which has been pushed byCongressmember Jerrold Nadler as a way of diverting freightshipments from trucks that clog local roadways onto the railroad,and which had been studied by the city’s Economic DevelopmentCorporation till it received a mayoral kibosh -is now beingevaluated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whichis just a few months away from issuing the results of itsexhaustive study.

The results of the study will determine if a freight rail lineconnecting New York City to the rest of the United States wouldremove enough trucks from area roadways to justify the project’sexpense and the impacts of the project itself, said Laura Shabe,the manager of the Cross Harbor Freight Program for the PortAuthority, which has been examining the proposal since 2007.

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Shabe spoke about the proposal and the study during theSeptember meeting of Community Board 10’s Traffic andTransportation Committee.

At issue is the large and ever-increasing volume of trucks onNew York thoroughfares, bringing into the region the goods fromoutside that are needed by the growing population of the city andnearby suburbs. Now, much of that traffic utilizes such entrypoints as the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (which currently carries anaverage of 195,000 vehicles a day) and the George Washington Bridge- a situation that will continue to get worse, said Shabe, ifnothing is done.

We have congested highways and they are just going to get morecongested, Shabe emphasized. If we don’t change things, they willget worse. The worst day now is going to be your best day forcongestion in about 20 years. The Port Authority predicts a 40percent increase in the demand for goods in the metropolitan areaby 2035.

That being said, Shabe cautioned that the need for action ofsome sort doesn’t mean that the Cross Harbor Tunnel is the answer.The older study done by the EDC, she said, Didn’t take intoaccount all of the impacts. The current study is attempting todetermine, what are the impacts versus the benefits, Shabesaid.

Compared to the prior study, which focused only on the tunnel,the current study is also taking a look at other options, such asfloating trucks across the harbor on barges, and creating a tunnelthat is shared by trains and motor vehicles, Shabe said.

Last time it was looked at, the Cross Harbor Tunnel got a mixedresponse. People living in neighborhoods impacted by truck trafficon heavily used crossings, such as Bay Ridge, tended to be infavor.

The response was not so positive in areas such as Flatbush andBoro Park where the train tracks that would be used to connect tothe tunnel run adjacent to apartment buildings and schools,especially as the study done at the time revealed that there wereno effective mitigations for noise impacts above the second storyof multilevel buildings – a particular concern since the originaldiscussion revolved around 100-car-long double-decker trainsrunning several times an hour.

Further afield, there was overwhelming opposition in Maspeth,Queens, where a multimodal hub that would attract high volumes oftruck traffic had been proposed.

For those who had noise concerns, there may be some relief ifthe project moves forward, Shabe said, as existing train trackswould be replaced, so it wouldn’t be all clackety-clack.Eventually, there would be less noise.

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