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Queens Chronicle

Cross Harbor Freight program ... again

The community has fought against the plan for more than a decade

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 10:22 am, Mon Aug 12, 2019.

Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) attended a briefing last Tuesday on phase two of the environmental impact study for the Cross Harbor Freight Program.

His takeaway: “This is another $70 million going down the drain for a tunnel to nowhere.”

The purpose of the project is to get as many cargo trucks off the metropolitan area’s aging roads and Hudson River crossings as possible. For more than a decade, the plan for a rail tunnel beneath New York Harbor has been met with community disdain.

Gov. Cuomo and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn) touted the project two years ago, pointing to its reduced congestion on roads and bridges, improved air quality and creation of 18,000 new jobs. And there would be a Port Authority investment of up to $70 million for a Tier II Environmental Impact Study and further design and engineering to get it started.

“What they would have to do to unload these trains, and this is pie in the sky, right now they’d have to expand rail yards,” Holden said.

He acknowledged that the 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn is big enough. “But then they’re going to have to build on expensive New York City real estate, put massive warehouses to break the goods down that come off these trains,” he said.

Holden said he questioned the plan putting inter-modals at the Fresh Pond Rail Yards, saying “There’s no room there now.”

On the rail corridor through Middle Village there is the testing of brakes at all hours, switching and idling of locomotives and banging of rail cars in the backyards of people’s homes at all hours, according to Holden.

“They can’t sustain it now and they want to expand it,” he said.

Steve Coleman, spokesman for the Port Authority of NY & NJ, said: “We have had some informal briefings for elected officials. However, the formal process will begin in the fall, and at that time we will begin a robust public outreach process where we will take comment from elected officials, the public and other stakeholders and respond to the public comment we receive.”

The Tier II study was scheduled to begin in the spring but was pushed back because of the federal government shutdown last January.

Despite Nadler’s continued support, the proposal has never made it past the environmental review process.

Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano said the plan may help at the George Washington Bridge but would put a lot of stress on Queens.

“It looks again like they want to ship everything Maspeth’s way,” Giordano said. “With only one freight rail line for all of Long Island it’s very difficult for this to not overburden other communities.

“I think it’s a question of how much demand there would be for this freight tunnel or if it’s just build-it-and maybe-they’ll-come type thing.”

Giordano also said the project would lead to an “unfair burden.”

“I would love to find better ways to move freight,” he said. “And if there were more rail lines, this tunnel might make more sense but with only one rail line I just see it puts an unfair burden on certain communities.”

Holden said Maspeth is not a realistic spot for the project at this time. His suggestion is that the Port Authority use the waterways. Goods can be brought to the Jersey Shore and can be barged to warehouses along the rivers.

He’s concerned that the Harbor plan would bring too much congestion with trucks where the Brooklyn Queens Expressway meets the Long Island Expressway.

The fact that jobs would be brought into the community provides little comfort.

“You’re going to bring jobs into a community that’s not going to be livable,” Holden said.

Nadler has been advocating for the rail for decades. Holden has previously referred to the plan as “Nadler’s Folly” and saying it’s “Nadler’s dream, Queens’ nightmare.”

Nadler told City & State last September that the Environmental Impact Statement will be completed in about 2021 or 2022 followed by an approval process which will take a year or two.

“The economics are so overwhelming that it’s something that’s got to be done,” he said.

Nadler added that, based on current projections by 2040 or 2045, the amount of freight by volume coming into New York City and Long Island is going to increase by 68 percent.

In 2003, consultants hired by the New York City Economic Development Corporation presented the first public draft of the EIS of the plan at a borough board meeting. The project was supposed to claim more than 100 acres around the Phelps Dodge site in Maspeth. Since then the area has been built up with businesses.

At a 2004 meeting of Community Board 5, John Schell, co-chairman of the Transportation Services Committee, said: “This project would have a severe and negative impact on our community. The impact on our quality of life would be horrendous.”

Mayor Mike Bloomberg voiced his opposition to the tunnel — a shift from his previous view on the matter — during a March 2005 meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association.

“I think when you get done looking at all the pros and cons the answer is we should not build this tunnel,” The New York Times quoted him as saying.

Bloomberg would later go back to supporting the project but without any tangible results.

In 2015, the Port Authority released its Tier I EIS with the agency choosing to further study implementing either a railcar float system on the waters of between New Jersey and Brooklyn or a subterranean rail tunnel connecting the two states, with the Fresh Pond Rail Yard in Glendale serving as a critical intermodal terminal.

Cuomo and Nadler announced in May 2017 the issuance by the Port Authority of a proposal for consultants to conduct the Tier II EIS and complementary advanced planning and engineering work.

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