Bay Ridge

Cross harbor tunnel proposal raises concerns in Bay Ridge

March 17, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The construction of a tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey could reduce truck traffic on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and other crossings. Eagle photo by Rick Buttacavoli
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In an effort to reduce truck traffic on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and other crossings, the Port Authority and the Federal Highway Administration are looking at alternative ways to get deliveries of goods and services into the city and into the northeast region of the country, including building a cross harbor rail freight tunnel between New Jersey and Bay Ridge.

The 3.5 mile-tunnel would connect New Jersey to the 65th Street rail yard in Bay Ridge, allowing trucks to bypass the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the George Washington Bridge and other crossings. A tunnel would cost between $7.4 billion and $10.2 billion to construct, depending on the design, and would open in 2035.

The two agencies are also considering other alternatives, including expanding an existing system that employs the use of barges to transport rail cars across New York Harbor.

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Altogether, there are 10 proposals involving either a tunnel or a float barge system that the Port Authority and the Federal Highway Administration are considering.  There is also an 11th proposal, which calls for doing nothing.

The proposals are part of Tier I, an early stage of a process aimed at narrowing down the various alternatives. The agencies are currently seeking public input on a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project. The draft EIS was completed in November. The public comment period will end on March 20, and a decision on what to build is expected this summer.

Something has to be done, according to the Port Authority, which predicted that bridges and roadways will become increasingly clogged with truck traffic if no action is taken.

“There are only a handful of transportation options to cross New York Harbor and the lower Hudson River, and as a consequence, freight traffic currently shares severely congested crossings with cars and mass transit. If we don’t take action, today’s traffic-jams will get worse, and extend for longer and longer periods beyond typical commuting hours. Projected growth in demand for goods — combined with continued dependence on trucks traveling overburdened roads — will create even more congestion, environmental challenges, and safety concerns. By improving the movement of goods across the harbor, the project would provide near-term and long-term improvements to the regional freight network, reduce truck traffic congestion, improve air quality, and provide economic benefits,” a statement on the Port Authority’s website reads.

But the proposals, as outlined in the draft EIS, are worrisome to members of Community Board 10 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights), who said they are concerned about the impact the plans would have on their neighborhood.

If a tunnel is built, it would mean additional trains traveling through the 65th Street rail yard and on Long Island Rail Road tracks that run beneath the Towers of Bay Ridge, twin high-rise co-op buildings located at 260 and 350 on 65th St.

Community board members said they are also concerned about the possibility of a dramatic increase in truck traffic since some of the trains would be unloaded at the 65th Street rail yard and the goods would be placed onto trucks.

“It looks like we’re going to be the hub. It’s something that can change the fabric of a community,” said Jayne Capetanakis, chairman of Community Board 10’s Traffic and Transportation Committee, who issued a report on the cross harbor tunnel proposal at the board’s meeting on March 16 .

“This is going to be the biggest thing this community has ever faced,” board member Stephen Harrison predicted.

Board members voted to go along with a recommendation made by Capetanakis to request that the Port Authority reduce the list of 10 alternatives to five and to provide more detailed information on the impact the choices would have on Bay Ridge. “Our best bet is to cut down the list,” Capetanakis told her fellow board members at the meeting.

Board Vice Chairman Doris Cruz wondered aloud if the board was taking the wrong approach. “I wonder if we are being too neutral and not speaking against this proposal enough,” she said.

This is not the first time the Port Authority has flirted with the idea of building a cross harbor tunnel. A tunnel plan has been around since the agency was founded in 1921.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Brooklyn-Manhattan), a proponent of the cross harbor tunnel, said it would have a positive impact. “It would remove thousands of trucks from our clogged roadways, and that would reduce pollution, reduce the cost of goods and the cost of doing business, grow jobs, and make us all safer by both ensuring easier movement of emergency vehicles and securing an additional route by which we can get vital goods into the region should our primary route be compromised,” he said in a statement in November.

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