Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel plan resurfaces, and a Queens lawmaker is concerned about its potential impact

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The plan to create a Cross Harbor Freight Rail Tunnel just took a major step forward, but one local lawmaker remains apprehensive.

The Cross Harbor Freight Program (CHFP) — which aims to greatly reduce truck traffic by connecting New York City to the national freight rail grid — recently received up to $70 million from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) for the next study phase.

Congresswoman Grace Meng, however, is still worried about the impacts it would have on her constituents in Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, and Ridgewood should it be built.

Meng expressed her concerns over PANYNJ moving ahead with a Tier II Environmental Impact Study for the freight tunnel, which was identified in the Tier I Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) as one of two potential options to help alleviate severe traffic congestion and reduce dependency on aging roadways and bridges.

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

The congresswoman first voiced her concerns regarding a freight tunnel that would potentially increase both truck and rail traffic in her district in a pair of letters to PANYNJ and the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) in 2015.

The proposed rail tunnel would run between an existing rail yard in the Greenville area of Jersey City and connect with existing rail infrastructure in Brooklyn as a way to increase freight shipments across the harbor and reduce traffic on Hudson River bridges and tunnels.

The Cross Harbor Tunnel was first proposed in the first few years of the 21st century, spurring concern from local civic leaders and organizations. Groups such as Community Board 5 (CB 5) have repeatedly come out against this option, citing the issues residents face on a daily basis with the rail freight operations at the Fresh Pond Railyard in Glendale — which also runs through portions of Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood — and fearing a cross harbor tunnel would increase rail use and truck traffic through the neighborhoods.

The earlier plans called for the creation of an intermodal facility in Maspeth, where products would be offloaded from train cars to trucks; residents in the Maspeth area believed this would add thousands of trucks to local streets each day were it ever built. Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke out against the tunnel plan in 2003, and while the proposal was shelved at that time, it resurfaced years later as the Port Authority seeks additional ways to move traffic through the region.

According to the FEIS, “The Rail Tunnel Alternative would divert between 7.2 and 9.6 million tons of freight per year, depending on the different operating scenarios affecting the potential to capture through trip long-haul truck markets.”

PANYNJ has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for consultants to conduct the Tier II Environmental Impact Study and other advanced planning and engineering work. PANYNJ has committed up to $35 million for the study, and has an addition $35 million available for further design and engineering.