Cross Harbor freight project to move forward with environmental study

Cross Harbor freight project to move forward with environmental study
Photo by Michael Shain
By Mark Hallum

The Port Authority issued a request for proposals to push the Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project along, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.

Known as the Cross Harbor Freight Program, the study will explore the feasibility of an underwater tunnel in New York Harbor that could alleviate severe traffic congestion and reduce commercial dependence on aging roads and bridges, as well as putting the breaks on the clutter of 18-wheelers in Maspeth Yards.

The Port Authority has put $35 million up for the study and has an equal additional amount for engineering costs.

“New York leads the nation in tackling the largest and most complex infrastructure challenges head-on, and this project will identify an innovative, 21st-century solution to streamline congestion and support economic growth for generations to come,” Cuomo said. “After generations of neglect, New York is once again building for the future, and by investing in world-class transportation projects across the state, we drive economic activity and help make our great state even greater.”

According to Cuomo, it is imperative to get ahead of the coming infrastructure challenges in the state and overhaul the old with long-term solutions. A barge bringing trucks across the harbor would not be favorable to building a tunnel to serve future generations, he said.

He cited the massive infrastructure decay within Penn Station and the resulting transit nightmares in recent months as an example.

“We’re now all lamenting Penn Station and the problems in Penn Station,” Cuomo said. “The problems in Penn Station didn’t happen last night. The problems in Penn Station have been growing for 20-30 years. It’s this long-term inability to deal with necessary infrastructure projects – and I understand it.”

Penn Station, the nation’s busiest rail hub, which is owned by Amtrak, has been besieged by two recent derailments, power outages in the East River and Hudson River tunnels, and scattered infrastructure failures, all of which have inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of commuters. Amtrak is responsible for maintaining the tracks.

Cuomo explained that elected officials overseeing government agencies are reluctant to invest in infrastructure because it is expensive and the tenure of those in office who commission the work is usually over by the time the projectpays off.

Not only will the Cross Harbor project give New York City the essential freight infrastructure it needs, Cuomo also expects it to create 28,000 to 41,000 total jobs, and $1.8 billion to $2.6 billion in total wages.

When the Port Authority first weighed options for trucking alternatives in 2005, residents and elected officials from Queens urged the agency to abandon the idea of moving freight by train through the city. Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), in a 2015 letter to the program’s director, Mark Hoffer, said increased traffic on outdated tracks going through Fresh Pond Rail Terminal in Ridgewood would cause disruption and damage homes from the vibration, while pollution from engine exhaust will pose health concerns for residents.

Community Board 5 voted in November 2015 to recommend that Port Authority not build a rail tunnel. Speakers voiced fears that if 20 trains came through the tunnel each day, with 50 to 100 cars, the path would lead them straight through Middle Village over Fresh Pond Road.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), whose district stretches from northeast Queens to the southwest toward Maspeth and Ridgewood, is still leery about the possibility of train and traffic disruptions in her district as the next phase of the program was announced Monday.

“I remain concerned about any plan that would increase truck and rail traffic through communities in my district. It is critical that this next phase of environmental reviews be conducted thoroughly and take all traffic issues into account,” Meng said. “I will be watching the process closely.”

Cuomo has set aside $10 billion for infrastructure upgrades in the state to boost the economy for New Yorkers. He recently cut the ribbon on the new Kosciuszko Bridge as part of his initiative bring big change to the state to last generations.

Much of New York’s freight currently crosses the harbor by barge, and according to Cuomo, the city is the only one in the country not connected to the freight network of the rest of the nation.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.