Under fierce opposition from residents of Queens and Brooklyn that included protests, rally's, letters, editorials, and even an attack billboard, it appears that the Cross Harbor Project is all but dead and soon to be buried. As most Juniper Park Civic Association members know, Manhattan Congressman Jerrold Nadler has been promoting a plan for a Cross Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel connecting Brooklyn to New Jersey. The tunnel project also calls for the construction 143-acre intermodal (truck to train) facility in Maspeth. This proposed facility would include a massive 20-story building, with a 46 acre footprint, that would be used to load and unload trains. The facility could potentially bring up to 16,000 additional trucks a day into our area.
Last year our civic association helped form a coalition to fight this destructive plan. We dedicated our full resources, and a tremendous amount of time and energy into this fight. We also received support from our elected officials including Councilman Dennis Gallagher, State Senator Serf Maltese, Assemblywoman Marge Markey, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, Assemblyman Mike Cohen and Councilman Eric Gioia. We even received great support from Brooklyn Councilman Simcha Felder who organized his community to fight the plan.
Because of these efforts, we received the support of the most important and influential man in the City of New York. On March 3, 2005 at the Juniper Park Civic Town Meeting at Our Lady of Hope School Auditorium, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he is pulling his support of the Cross Harbor Project. He recognized that it would destroy several neighborhoods “…NYC is about neighborhoods,” he said. Needless to say we are overjoyed that Mayor Bloomberg has decided to once again support our neighborhood in a major battle. Last year he brokered the deal that saved us from a giant Home Depot on the site of the Elmhurst Gas Tanks. We can’t thank the Mayor enough for once again coming to the aid of our communities. However as we expected Manhattan
Congressman Jerrold Nadler did not take no for an answer. He immediately started visiting several daily and local newspapers to persuade their editors to go along with his absurd plan.
The New York Times, NY Daily News, NY Post and Newsday all jumped on Cross Harbor bandwagon spouting Nadleresque phrases in their editorials supporting the tunnel. No editorial really went beyond the rhetoric nor did the editors bother to investigate the project. They just spouted the Nadler mantra that the tunnel would reduce truck traffic significantly in NYC. A claim that is not even supported in the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS), which was funded with $21 million of taxpayer money secured by Nadler.
WHY WE CAN’T COUNT ON CONGRESSMAN WEINER
As if the neighborhood wasn’t facing a more daunting challenge of fighting the rhetoric, lies and misinformation spread by tunnel advocates and a misguided press, we didn’t even have the support of our own Congressman. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who just happens to be running for Mayor, is supporting the Cross Harbor project. Understand he is now on a bigger stage and must now play to the masses. Why should he be concerned with us here in Western Queens. He has much larger ambitions. His constituents be damned.
At a JPCA Town Meeting last year he said he is in favor of any plan that would get trucks off the street. Does the
Congressman realize that the Cross Harbor plan will take trucks off the streets… of New Jersey (and some Hudson River crossings)? It will add trucks to Queens and Brooklyn streets and East River Crossings, particularly Maspeth and Middle Village streets. We have to wonder who does Congressman Weiner represent? The answer is definitely not the people of Queens and Brooklyn. Weiner even had the audacity to attack the Mayor for “pandering” to the people of Maspeth by opposing the Cross Harbor project.
We experienced a hint of what Weiner was really like on the battle against the Home Depot on the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site. The Congressman told us he wanted to “lead the battle” against the development. After initially trying to talk the community into settling for a half acre of land as a crumb to accept the Home Depot he mysteriously disappeared never to be heard of again.
Thankfully we carried on the battle and victory was achieved with no help from our Congressman.
That same year with the help of Transportation Alternatives, the JPCA received a prestigious grant valued at over $30,000 to study the 69th Street/Grand Avenue area in an effort to make it safer. Some of the leading planners and engineers were brought in from across the country to help make recommendations. Community Board and JPCA leaders were part of the study team. A comprehensive plan was recommended and turned over to Congressman Weiner’s office. Needless to say nothing was ever done. I recently spoke to Congressman’s Weiner Chief of Staff who knew nothing about the study.
WHY THE CROSS HARBOR TUNNEL IS UNNECESSARY
A continuous argument of Congressmen Nadler and Weiner and lobbyist namely Marnie MacGregor (Move NY/NJ) is that the New York region is uncommonly dependent on trucking. The fact it is not radically out of line with the national average – trucking transports 81% of the tons of freight in the New York metro area versus 78% nationwide.
Trucking is the main freight mode in NYC, as it is all over. Rail does play a minor role – less than 2% in New York versus 16% nationwide, but that’s because water transport looms so large in NYC.
The big difference between the NYC area and the rest of the ountry is not rail versus trucking, but rail versus water. The New York Metro region, with islands, peninsulas and inlets, is wonderfully suited for water transport and very poorly suited for rail.
Water transportation has thrived like practically nowhere else in the United States. Waterways are natural obstacles to rail thus making rail connections very expensive to build. Bulk products like – gravel, sand, oil, chemicals, scrap, bulk lumber – which in more land bound cities are railed, in the New York region they tend to be barged.
With that said, today there are still adequate rail routes into NYC without building a $9 billion Cross Harbor tunnel between New Jersey and Brooklyn. That money would be better spent on improving existing railroad infrastructure to increase capacity and productivity. The 143-acre (truck/train depot) facility in Maspeth would displace hundreds of existing businesses and cause massive traffic jams and pollution in an already heavily congested area (where the LIE meets the BQE). Nadler says that this problem could be “mitigated” by adding entrance and exit ramps to the Long Island Expressway. Even if this were possible, can the the LIE absorb thousands of trucks additional trucks a day? And what about when the LIE is congested (which happens more often than not), what will prevent trucks from finding alternate routes through our neighborhood? Certainly not a woefully understaffed precinct like the 104th Pct. And what about our air quality which is the worst in the nation? What does Nadler recommend to mitigate that problem?
What Nadler fails to realize in his quest for the tunnel is that these types of intermodal facilities already exist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania away from densely populated urban areas. Nadler and cronies also overlook 50 years of investment in warehousing and logistics centers in central and northern New Jersey out of which trucks daily distribute goods throughout the NY/NJ/CT region. These centers are convenient to the region’s major ports, interstate highways, and railways. Why should they build expensive new duplicative facilities on very pricey New York City land? They simply won’t do it.
NYC IS ALREADY LINKED TO NATIONAL RAIL NETWORK
The entire premise that is put forth by Nadler that this tunnel would “connect NYC to the national rail network” is utterly absurd. NYC is already connected to the national rail network and quite well I might add. Lines run into the city for the north from New England and down both the west and east sides of the Hudson and these Hudson lines connect to the natural flow of the national rail traffic from the west into the northeast including NYC.
There are also connections into the City from the south and southwest. This traffic could either be floated over an existing float bridge facility that the city built for millions of dollars, which I will add has never been used, or the traffic could be terminated in surrounding train/truck transload centers and trucked into the region or the traffic can go up the west side of the Hudson and back down the east side and into a train/truck transload. This type of move, up west, down east, and vice versa, is a move that is presently being used with thousands of railcar loads annually, with some of lowest rated commodities, and it works great. This is not an uncommon move in the railroad industry and similar moves are made in locations other then New York and the Northeast.
The point is there are numerous excellent rail routes, with additional capacity, into NYC without building a $9 billion tunnel. The rail routes into the City are not the problem! The problem is the railroad infrastructure once the railcar arrives, i.e. the unnecessary weight restrictions on the Long Island Rail Road, railcar clearance restrictions throughout the region and the lack of railroad yard space in close proximity to the City! If these issues were corrected, not just talked about, everyone in the area would enjoy fewer truck traffic problems. The only credit I give the tunnel advocates is they recognize these problems, but they only agree that fixing them will help the region if there is a tunnel attached to the solution. That idea is ludicrous.
To supply commodities to the NYC economy, Congressman Nadler and tunnel advocates would rather shift truck traffic from Hudson River crossings to East River crossings.
Presently the new rail route proposed by the Cross Harbor Tunnel advocates and Nadler is available. However the (train ferry) float operation is disgracefully under utilized for two important reasons;
1. The float bridges at 51st Street on the Brooklyn side are almost worthless and unusable, while brand new float bridges at 65th Street, built by NYC in 1999, are sitting and have never been used;
2. The fee to float trains is driving away rail business. It simply is not cost effective for the railroads. And the current float toll is substantially lower than the proposed “Tunnel Toll.” Railroads have been told that the toll to use the proposed Cross Harbor tunnel would start at $1,000 a boxcar. What makes the tunnel advocates think that the cost problem will miraculously disappear when the tunnel is built? It won't!
Unfortunately there are many more examples of the lunacy that is being presented as a cure-all to the regions transportation problems when in fact this tunnel is nothing more then a pork barrel scheme that has been reviewed several times by the NY/NJ Port Authority always with the same conclusion, it won't work, it has no cost benefit for the region and the only purpose the tunnel would serve would be political opportunism! Mayor Bloomberg has also realized this.
It's time that New Yorkers fully understand what Congressman Nadler is trying to do! Just look at who contributes to his re-election campaign–transportation companies, construction unions, lawyers and transportation special interests (check out: www.fecinfo.com search Nadler).
He has already wasted $21 million of taxpayer money on a Cross Harbor Tunnel study. He must be stopped before he throws more money away and before he destroys our neighborhoods on a useless industrial era project.
Yes, a major investment is needed in New York’s transportation infrastructure. The billions that would be wasted on a Cross Harbor Tunnel could be better spent on improving and modernizing NYC’s roads and bridges, keeping trucks on expressways (and yes some parkways) with dedicated truck lanes & truck routes and improving existing railway infrastructure.