POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Port Authority Says Cross Harbor Freight Plan Will Ease Traffic, Help Environment

By David Cruz
Correspondent

The Port Authority says it wants to put an end to scenes like this, trucks upon trucks, rolling through city streets and highways to and from New York. Their impact on the environment, traffic and infrastructure threaten to bring the region to a grinding halt. For years, the agency has been studying ways to ease Cross Harbor freight traffic, and this week, released its so-called Tier I Final Environmental Impact Statement, which narrowed its options from 10 to two.

One option is a freight-only rail tunnel across New York Harbor between the southern end of Jersey City and Brooklyn. The other is a so-called enhanced rail car float operation, which would carry rail cars on barges from the Greenville Yards in Jersey City across the harbor to Brooklyn.

The goal is to get something like a half a million trucks off local roads, the George Washington Bridge and Verrazano Bridge.

“The enhanced car float and the rail tunnel alternative were the strongest in terms of advancing the goals of the overall project,” said Mark Hoffer, Director of New Port Initiatives for the Port Authority. “The other alternatives all appeared to us as raising the possibilities of consequences or impacts that might be significant and difficult to mitigate.”

The advantage of the rail car float option is that it is already up and running and has been expanding since the Port Authority bought this property in 2008.

Officials project a 37 percent growth in cargo activity over the next 20 years. The Port Authority’s Environmental Impact Statement is getting a thumbs up from environmentalists. Jeff Tittel is with the NJ chapter of the Sierra Club.

“I think the barge proposal is, at best, a stop-gap until a tunnel is built,” he said. “A tunnel makes the most sense. It’s the best way to not only move goods throughout the region but it gets a lot of trucks off the road. You have to understand that one train going through the tunnel to Brooklyn will take a thousand trucks off the roads.”

The problem with the tunnel option is cost. It’s estimated to cost between $7 billion and $10 billion. Expansion of the rail car float option will be around $100 million. Both plans would rely on heavy federal subsidies and with calls for a new Port Authority commuter tunnel growing louder, the feds might be loathe to help bankroll both.

“Will it be easy to get the money? It never is. Not when you’re talking about that kind of a figure,” admitted Hoffer. “But we feel this is an important issue. We feel it is right up there with the importance of a passenger tunnel. The situation is not going to get better, it can only get worse.”

Meanwhile, residents in Jersey City’s Greenville neighborhood say they’re opposed to either option. Getting hundreds of thousands of trucks off the roads sounds great, they say, but not if it means a majority of them are going to be rerouted through this neighborhood, which already hosts a natural gas pipeline nearby and ever-expanding Conrail operations.

“It seems like they’re always trying to put things that are hazardous or are gonna make a problem in Greenville and that’s been the history of minority and poor communities, for decades,” said Jersey City resident Bill Vasil. “You know when you wanna site something, you’re not gonna site something where the rich people or the middle class live. You’re gonna put it in the poor communities where the minorities are, where they assume they’re not gonna complain and they can go ahead and do whatever they wanna do.”

The Port Authority says this is all very preliminary. There’s still a Phase II environmental impact plan to put together and then years before funding is lined up, land is acquired and other hurdles are cleared. But, residents here say that, when it comes to projects like this, they have to act now or regret their situation later.