Times Newsweekly EDITORIAL
Harbor Tunnel Still A Bad Idea
Much like a bad horror movie villain, there seems to be no killing the local bogeyman known as the Cross Harbor Tunnel.
A decade ago, residents across western Queens banded together against the city’s plan to build a freight train tunnel between Greenville Yards in New Jersey and Bay Ridge. If completed, trains across the tunnel would ship up and down the Bay Ridge line to and from Glendale’s Fresh Pond Railyard and to a proposed intermodal facility in Maspeth.
Visions of thousands of diesel-spewing trucks filling local streets and around-the-clock operations on local freight rail lines scared the wits out of local residents. They openly feared such activity would destroy the communities and their property values.
Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, seeing the backlash amid a reelection campaign, shelved the Cross Harbor Tunnel in 2005—and it appeared the tunnel idea appeared as dead as the dodo.
But now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey resurrected the tunnel idea as one of many concepts in its Cross Harbor Freight Program. The authority—looking to take truck traffic off its overwhelmed Hudson River and existing harbor crossings—is again considering a train tunnel or a combined truck/train tube below the harbor. Increased float barge operations are also an option.
As with the original plan, the increased train traffic these crossing ideas would generate would be sent northward to the Fresh Pond Railyard and possibly to an intermodal facility in Maspeth, where goods would be offloaded between trucks and trains.
Local civic groups are already gearing up for a battle against another Cross Harbor Tunnel, but the sheer logistics of such a plan are as much a drawback as a perceived benefit for the Port Authority.
Estimates for constructing a tunnel across New York Harbor and connected infrastructure range between $7 and 11 billion, a staggering number by any standard. Fresh Pond Railyard is already running at capacity as the only freight junction between geographic Long Island and the rest of the country; there’s no way to expand the yard any further to accommodate the additional trains Cross Harbor would bring.
There isn’t enough room in western Queens, and there isn’t enough money in any government’s budget, to safely accommodate a Cross Harbor Tunnel and the resulting, vastly increased freight rail traffic. But fortunately for the Port Authority, there is a way to address its freight needs without splurging billions or overburdening existing infrastructure.
The waterway network linked to New York Harbor—the very harbor the Port Authority wants to cross—is the answer to the Port Authority’s transportation problems. Why go through the harbor when they could use the harbor more effectively?
It could expand barge operations between Greenville Yards and stations not only in Bay Ridge, but also in the Bronx, where connections could be made to the CSX line linking the rest of the country. Another station could conceivably be constructed near the Newtown Creek in industrial Maspeth, where the LIRR’s Montauk line runs; such a facility might take some of the strain off the Fresh Pond Railyard.
Barging is the most cost-efficient solution to the Port Authority’s freight needs and the least noxious option for residential communities that shoulder the burdens of freight rail activity. Moreover, the billions the Port Authority intends to spend on a Cross Harbor Tunnel could be used instead for another pressing need: upgrades at the city’s three major airports.
Let’s hope the Port Authority realizes this and permanently scraps the Cross Harbor Tunnel.