Cross Harbor proposals continue to take shape 1

Community Board 5 has come out against the possibility of building a freight tunnel underneath Upper New York Bay multiple times in years past, most recently at a Port Authority public hearing at Borough Hall in March.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has whittled down its list of ideas to better ship freight in and around New York City to just two, and some residents of southwestern Queens won’t be fans of one of the finalists.

After months of crunching numbers, the Port Authority released its Tier I Environmental Impact Statement late last month, with the agency choosing to further study implementing either a railcar float system on the waters of Upper New York Bay 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.

The purpose of the Cross Harbor Freight Initiative is to get as many cargo trucks off the metropolitan area’s aging bridge and roadway systems as possible, and the Port Authority estimates that both options would divert at least 2.8 million tons of freight per year.

However, Community Board 5, southwest Queens activists and residents have slammed the rail tunnel idea for years, claiming that with the Fresh Pond Rail Yard becoming a site where numerous trains would offload their cargo onto trucks, the amount of truck traffic in area neighborhoods would dramatically increase.

The agency acknowledged such concerns in its report, saying it would commission in-depth studies of area truck traffic, emissions from vehicles and trains, noise and any other impacts the construction of a tunnel and usage of the Fresh Pond Rail Yard may have on surrounding neighborhoods.

Even with the various drawbacks of the plan, the Port Authority report notes that transporting freight via train through a tunnel under the bay would provide the biggest reduction in cargo being driven across the Hudson River and increase in jobs for area residents.

“The rail tunnel alternative would result in a reduction of 700 to 900 trucks per day, or 2 to 2.5 percent, across all bridges crossing the harbor and Hudson River in the 23-county analysis region in the eastbound direction,” the report reads. “The rail tunnel alternative would generate approximately 12,500 to 18,000 direct job-years.”

When it comes to the actual implementation of either idea, the construction of terminals on both the New Jersey and Brooklyn sides would take approximately two years, while a minimum of eight years would be needed to construct a freight tunnel.

At a Borough Board meeting in January, Director of New Port Initiatives Mark Hoffer said the rail idea would cost between $7 and $11 billion, while the cost of the float option would run upwards of $600 million.

“We’re going to have to be partners in terms of funding,” Hoffer said in January. “A federal partnership or a private sector partnership will be needed.”

Options that were discarded over the last year by the Port Authority included a cargo truck ferry and a tunnel beneath the bay that would allow both vehicles and freight trains to pass through.

In-depth analysis of the two remaining projects will start in 2016.