By David Cruz
If you’ve ever tried to drive through North Jersey during rush hour and found yourself in the middle of bumper to bumper traffic chances are there’s a truck, or more likely trucks, at the center of it. Thousands of them clogging up our major arteries, pounding our infrastructure and polluting our air, not to mention choking off regional economic expansion. It’s a problem environmentalists and industrialists alike say is nearing a crisis point.
“Almost everything that comes to us from the rest of the country comes in by long haul heavy truck. Trucks are wonderful things. They work. But they also bring with them certain problems in their wake,” said Port Authority New Port Initiatives Director Mark Hoffer.
So, how to get hundreds of thousands of these trucks a year off the roads? Hoffer is the Port Authority’s point man on what’s called the Cross Harbor Freight Program.
“The time was right to sit back and try to study whether there was a better way to do things, in terms of bringing the freight in. That’s essentially what this program is all about,” he said.
A draft environmental impact statement lists 10 options for moving freight from Jersey to New York. Many of those include some kind of cross harbor transportation system based out of the Greenville section of Jersey City. The Port Authority says getting all these trucks off the roads is good for the region, if not entirely good for Greenville.
“They’re gonna reduce pollution at the Hudson River crossings but they’re going to increase pollution here in Greenville,” said Bill Vasil.
Vasil is an environmental scientist, professor and a long-time Greenville resident. He applauds efforts to get trucks off the roads but doesn’t think it’s fair that this neighborhood, which is experiencing a comeback after years of neglect, should bear the brunt of the environmental burden, again.
“As many as 5,300 additional trucks a day, as many as 25 trains a day, so you’re gonna have trains going through here 24/7. You’re also gonna have the trucks as well,” he said.
But it’s more than just more noise and pollution, says Martha Larkins. She’s married to Vasil and heads the South Greenville Neighborhood Association. Her fear is a disaster along the lines of the recent West Virginia tanker derailment and explosions.
“It’s explosions and they can’t put the fires out, so they just have to let it keep burning until it burns out itself,” Larkins said. “If that burned continuously, for weeks, that would destroy the neighborhood essentially.”
That is the worst of the worst case scenarios, but a danger that this community would certainly face, given the nature of the kind of stuff that gets transported through here. Mayor Steve Fulop this week unveiled a redevelopment plan for this area.
“We are trying from a city standpoint, from a redevelopment standpoint, specifically, to attract dollars into Greenville. Having freight trains go through there consistently would be counterproductive to what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.
“It behooves us, we submit, to start thinking about this seriously today and taking steps to do whatever it is that we decide to do to address it. We can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand,” Hoffer said.
The public comment portion of this phase of the plan was completed last week. The Port Authority will take the summer to narrow its options down to two or three. But residents fear is that Greenville’s prime location makes it more likely that whatever the Port Authority decides to do, this part of town is going to feel the impact.