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Tunnel vision: Cross-harbor freight plan raises traffic fright

The Brooklyn Paper
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Bay Ridge’s most crowded trucking corridor could face a deluge of even more vehicles if a long-stalled freight-tunnel project succeeds in connecting the neighborhood to the New Jersey waterfront, the Port Authority revealed to local leaders at Borough Hall last week.

The Port Authority and the Federal Highway Commission are reviving a decades-old plan to build a freight tunnel under New York Harbor in an effort to reduce truck traffic elsewhere in the region by sending more rail and big rig traffic from the Port of New York and New Jersey directly into Bay Ridge near 65th Street — something that has locals worried.

“Right now, the 65th Street corridor, which is the main truck route, is among the highest-crash locations in the district,” said Community Board 10 district manager Josephine Beckmann.

Officials from the Port Authority briefed the Borough Board at a meeting on Jan. 22 on a draft environmental impact statement outlining 10 possible projects to deliver freight from New Jersey to Brooklyn, through either a 3.5-mile tunnel built beneath the harbor into the 65th Street Rail Yard, or a dramatic expansion of the existing barge crossing that floats rail cars to the Bush Terminal train-yard in Sunset Park.

Both options would move rail cargo bound for Queens and Long Island onto the Long Island Rail Road’s Bay Ridge Branch, while transferring local freight to trucks for delivery.

To see the project through, the Port Authority would have to add a second track to the Bay Ridge Branch, deepen its trench, and move the Buckeye Pipeline, which runs under the right-of-way to carry jet fuel from the mainland to Kennedy Airport in Queens, but a Port Authority official said the rejiggering likely wouldn’t require a land-grab.

“There is room in the existing Bay Ridge Branch for two tracks,” said Port Authority general manager Matthew Masters.

But freight cars are taller than they were when the line first opened in the late 1800s, he said, so the Long Island Rail Road would have to dig the track 10 feet deeper into the ground. The fuel line would have to move to make room for a second track, because the Authority can’t lay a railroad right over it, he said.

The Port Authority is pushing the cross-harbor projects to cut truck traffic on streets and bridges elsewhere in the city and across 48 surrounding counties, according to Masters.

The most direct rail route from the mainland to Long Island requires freight trains to cross the Hudson River 140 miles upstate of the city in Selkirk, New York — promoting shipping companies to use trucks to get goods to and from the country’s most populous island. But big rigs are clogging up bridges and local highways — and their numbers are only set to grow as the island’s population swells, according to a Port Authority impact study.

Diverting cargo through Bay Ridge may ease congestion elsewhere in the region, but it could make life tougher on some neighborhood residents. The Bay Ridge Branch runs directly under Bay Ridge Towers — the largest residential development in the neighborhood — leaving some concerned about noise.

“Bay Ridge Towers residents are — rightly so — concerned about any choices that would impact their building,” Beckmann said.

But Masters said the Port Authority would use continuous-welded rails in the revamped track to cut down on noise.

The Port Authority is taking public comments on the proposed plans through Feb. 27, after which it will issue a decision on which alternatives it will explore in greater depth.

The public can send comments to feedback@crossharborstudy.com, and the Port Authority is holding a public meeting about the project on Feb. 3.

Public meeting on the Cross Harbor Freight Program at Borough Hall (209 Joralemon St. between Court Street and Boerum Place) Feb. 3 from 4 to 8 pm.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Larry Littlefield from larry.littlefield@gmail.com says:
Wrong location. The tunnel should go from Ridgefield NJ to Port Morris in the S. Bronx, following the route of the GWB. With a long run in each direction it would be through hard rock almost all the way -- easy to tunnel -- whereas a tunnel to Brooklyn would have to go under muck.

Trailers on flat cars could be routed over the Hell Gate Bridge to Queens, and some could get to East New York Brooklyn, with some modifications to overpasses. Trucks could get directly onto highways such as the LIE and Bruckner, and Linden Boulevard, without going through neighborhoods.

From Bay Ridge, massive modifications to overpasses would have to be made just to get to East New York. And you can't dig down because the Buckeye pipeline is under the rail line.
Jan. 29, 2015, 9:57 am
So.BIZ from So.BIZ says:
A rail/truck freight tunnel is bad for Brooklyn's surviving/rebounding waterfront cargo operators.

The niche waterfront operators have survived the decades of waterfront decline and are now on the rebound. When just 15 years back, there were only two functioning cargos handlers on the Gowanus Bay and Sunset Park Industrial Waterfront. Today every available dock is back in use.

Put the money into Brooklyn's Industrial Waterfront, connect it to the east bound Railroad, and let Brooklyn Industrial Waterfront handle Long Islands cargo.

A rail/truck freight tunnel getting NJ cargo to NYC for cheap, will harm the rebounding Industrial Waterfront Operators. And nothing will go back the other way as it would be "like swimming upstream" against cheaper land, cheaper taxes and cheaper labor in Jersey.

If we want to reduce truck traffic from NJ, raise the bridge tolls for incoming trucks coming and make our waterfront more attractive/competitive for waterfront commerce.

Don't sell out to NJ. Build NYC's infrastructure and keep the business and jobs at home!
Jan. 29, 2015, 1:44 pm
James from Bay Ridge says:
“Right now, the 65th Street corridor, which is the main truck route, is among the highest-crash locations in the district,” said Community Board 10 district manager Josephine Beckmann.

Why don't you reporters ask Josephine why she and CB10 always oppose safety changes recommended by the DOT? Shes cares about pedestrian safety here, but not last year when they opposed improvements on 4th ave.
Jan. 29, 2015, 2:04 pm
TOM from Sunset Park says:
The freight traffic meant to be carried through the proposed tunnel originates in the Middle Atlantic states south of NJ and its destination is the New England states(and vice versa). This is the same route that is served currently by I-278 which originates in Elizabeth, NJ, west of the Hudson River and terminates in the Bronx east of the Hudson and a rail bridge ten miles south of Albany NY. That traffic hopefully would shift to a more cost-effective rail line.

NYC lacks rail infrastructure for any significant freight delivery system, as a result, trucks carry 90%-plus of the freight, even only through-traffic deliveries. This is not new. This is not an efficient arrangement by any measure. The PA was created to remedy this.

Freight carried by trucks in the USA will increase by 50% by 2030. Remember that projection when any traffic volumes that are quoted.

The PA is trying to determine if barging rail cars across the New York Harbor will satisfy the demand or will point to a real need for an expensive tunnel for future demand.

If a tunnel is dug from NJ to Brooklyn to meet up with the LIRR branch line, it must be remain deep enough to avoid the newly dredged channel for the PANAMAX mega-vessels and because a freight train can roll up only on a slight incline from under the harbor surface, and must avoid the existing Fourth Avenue subway tunnel, it probably won't break ground until it is a mile or more in from the shoreline( at about 7th Avenue). To feed the tunnel egress directly into the LIRR cut would dictate a direct route under 61st or 62nd, not into the 65th Street Yard or the Sunset Park or Red Hook waterfronts(I have not seen any detailed sketches).

Any current discussions should include all the other competing interests. There is rising population density everywhere and rejuvenation of the waterfront areas for residential and business uses in Brooklyn and plans for substantial new construction of housing and commercial buildings along the LIRR cut(NYS's MTA-owned), a Bus Rapid Transit route along 65th Street from east Brooklyn to Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, a cross-Brooklyn subway using the same right-of-way, and sites for needed public schools on the open property adjacent to the proposed route.

Truck deliveries to local customers emanating from either enhanced barge traffic or a tunnel are not the real intent or result. Getting trucks off I-278 is. Residents of East New York, Glendale or Maspeth have more to worry about. In the end local traffic can use the highway and get off the streets. That would be both safer and economical.

The real problem everyone should remember is
Jan. 29, 2015, 4:39 pm
Mike from Bushwick says:
This discussion is actually informative and intelligent. Thanks to the people who posted.
Jan. 29, 2015, 7 pm
John from Newkirk Plaza says:
Now how about extending PATH trains from the World Trade Center to Atlantic Terminal in downtown Brooklyn? (Yes, this is tangential to the discussion.)
Jan. 30, 2015, 5:01 pm
Avi from Borough park says:
Paths trains to the Barclays center in Brooklyn would be amazing!!!!!
Jan. 31, 2015, 12:45 am
Paul from Bay Ridge says:
Tom from Sunset Park is right, the underwater tunnel would 'surface' to the existing tracks further inland, possibly up as far as 12-13 Aves. I think the existing tracks lead to the Brooklyn Terminal Market, and other tracks further east and north as well. Decent amount of space at the market for warehousing and trucking to other points.
Feb. 4, 2015, 3:32 pm

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