By Larry Penner
Remember the Port Authority New York New Jersey Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel from last fall? This transportation project would assist in moving freight via rail vs. truck by improving connections between New Jersey and Brooklyn on to Queens. This project has been championed by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) for 30 years. After all that time, it has yet to progress beyond the federal NEPA environmental review process. In theory, it might move thousands of trucks on a daily basis off the roads and on to railroad tracks for significant portions of the journey between New Jersey and Long Island. It reminds me of the long-forgotten proposed tunnel between 69th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and St. George, Staten Island. The concept was to extend subway service from Brooklyn to Staten Island. Ground was broken with entrances at both ends in the 1920s, but the project quickly ran out of money and was abandoned to history. When living on Shore Road in Bay Ridge, friends and I would look to no avail in attempting to find the abandoned site filled in decades earlier. Flash forward almost 90 years later and we have the proposed “Cross Harbor” rail freight tunnel project.
Construction of any new freight, public transportation, tunnel or bridge project can take years if not decades by the time all feasibility studies, environmental reviews, planning, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements, construction, budgeting, identifying and securing funding is completed. This is before the project reaches beneficial use. Construction for the Second Avenue subway began in the 1960s. (Bond money intended for this project in the 1950s was spent elsewhere). The latest completion date for the first segment of three stations between 63rd and 96th streets on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is December 2016 at a cost of $4.5 billion or more. Construction for the original tunnel to support bringing the Long Island Rail Road from Queens into Grand Central Terminal began in the 1960s. The latest completion date is now December 2023 with a cost of $10.8 billion. No one can identify the sources for the estimated $24 billion to build a new tunnel for New Jersey Transit and Amtrak known as the “Gateway project” to gain additional access to Penn Station from New Jersey. Ditto for paying back the $3 billion federal loan which covered a majority of the estimated $4 billion for replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge in Westchester. Any guess who will find $10 billion or more needed for construction of a new Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel? Neither the Port Authority of NY & NJ nor Nadler has yet to identify and secure any funding for final design and engineering, let alone construction. The PANYNJ also needs to find $1.5 billion for PATH extension from Newark, N.J. to Newark Airport and $10 billion for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan along with billions more for other transportation investments.
The proposed Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel may be just another in the continuing series of feasibility studies and environmental reviews sponsored by various governmental agencies and public officials over decades. They generate some money for consultants along with free publicity for elected officials who promise a bright future but all too often move on to another public office before delivering. You are frequently left holding an empty bag with unfilled promises. Queens residents who oppose the project based on concerns about significant future increases in the number, length and frequency of freight trains need not worry. At the end of the day, just like the long abandoned Brooklyn to Staten Island subway project, don’t count on seeing any shovel in the ground before the end of this decade. You may never see completion of any Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel in our lifetime.