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Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel’s wheels start turning again

The construction of a Cross Harbor Rail and Freight Tunnel beneath New York Harbor between New York City and New Jersey is again making inroads towards becoming a reality – nearly a decade after the over 30-year-old project was put on the back burner due to then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s opposition.

The new movement comes with the release of a “Draft Tier I Environment Impact Statement” (EIS) by the Port Authority of NY and NJ and the Federal Highway Administration, which lists the positive and negative impacts of such a tunnel on surrounding neighborhoods, including Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge, Borough Park and Flatbush communities, as well as other areas that lead into Queens, Long Island, Westchester and southern Connecticut.

Supporters tout the tunnel as a key infrastructure project critical to the New York metropolitan area’s ability to transport products efficiently.

“The New York region moves goods extremely inefficiently, largely by road-clogging trucks, and to terrible effect,” said Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, one of the staunchest proponents of the Cross Harbor Tunnel project.

“It will reduce pollution, reduce the cost of goods and the cost of doing business, grow jobs, and make us all safer,” said Nadler, “by both ensuring easier movement of emergency vehicles and securing an additional route by which we can get vital goods into the region, should our primary route be compromised.”

At issue is the large and ever-increasing volume of trucks on New York thoroughfares, bringing into the region the goods from outside that are needed by the growing population of the city and nearby suburbs. Now, much of that traffic utilizes such entry points as the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (which currently carries an average of 195,000 vehicles a day) and the George Washington Bridge – a situation that will continue to get worse if nothing is done, said Laura Shabe, manager of the Cross Harbor Freight Program for the Port Authority, in 2011.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand also voiced support for the tunnel, with de Blasio calling it a “smart investment” towards “making our city more sustainable” and Schumer touting it as an example of big-picture planning “for the future economic growth of the region. . .without unduly burdening any community [when] done right.”

However, some residents of Flatbush and Boro Park are concerned about exactly that possibility of “undue burden” on their communities, specifically regarding vibrations, noise and pollution from passing freight trains on apartment buildings, homes and businesses – which sit directly adjacent to the track. Environmental studies dating to when the project was last active raise concern about whether the impacts could be mitigated, particularly with respect to buildings more than two stories in height.

“No one’s against [the project], but there are a lot of unanswered questions and people are concerned early and rightfully so,” said Morris Sacks, member-at-large and former co-chair of Community Board 14’s Transportation Committee – which covers Midwood, Flatbush and parts of Kensington.

“The concern is with the [rail] cuts being used for freight. The trains would connect to the old Bay Ridge railroad line, lead to Avenue H and I, and increase one track to two tracks plus use for freight,” explained Sacks. “Vibrations, noise, potential pollution. . . currently, trains are much improved than what they once were, but they are still a source of pollution.”

Additional reporting contributed by Helen Klein.

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