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NY Harbor tunnel a drain on worthier transit projects

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Last year, a member of the city's congressional delegation was discussing his efforts to secure more federal funds for the many big infrastructure projects on the region's agenda. This congressman admitted that he saw no value in West Side Congressman Jerrold Nadler's dream to build a freight tunnel under New York Harbor.

"I am not going to tell Jerry that," he said. "If I did, Jerry would try to eliminate my projects."

The passage of the recent $286.4 billion highway and transit bill in Congress shows how deeply that attitude has taken hold in Washington. Rather than bringing more aid to New York, such political logrolling threatens the region's most important projects.

Take Mr. Nadler's tunnel, which would put freight arriving at the port in New Jersey onto railroad cars, send it under the harbor to be unloaded in Maspeth, Queens, and then dispatched by truck to Long Island and New England.

The original motivation for Mr. Nadler and one-time supporter Rudy Giuliani was nostalgia: an effort to recreate a Brooklyn based on manufacturing and longshoremen's jobs. Since even Mr. Nadler now realizes those days are long gone, he's turned his scheme into a national security measure. He's promoting the tunnel as a means to keep the economy moving if terrorists disable the George Washington Bridge, over which those goods move now.

The project has survived through his dogged determination and some quirks of timing. At one point, the Bloomberg administration was in a position to pull the plug, but decided to go along, hoping to win Mr. Nadler's support for the West Side stadium. When he wouldn't play ball, the administration withdrew its support. Both the city and Port Authority are now opposed to the plan, which means the project ultimately won't go anywhere. Yet the new highway bill provides $100 million in funds to continue the planning work.

It isn't just Mr. Nadler who has pet projects. Brooklyn congressman and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner won $15 million in the bill for ferries to connect the Rockaways with Manhattan. Never mind that the three boats required will cost more than that sum and that studies have shown that such a service would require huge subsidies.

Both congressmen can claim they are bringing home the bacon, but in fact they are endangering the city's economic future. These futile projects are taking away money desperately needed to fund the four major mass transit projects that offer the biggest gains for the city--the extension of the No. 7 line to the far West Side, the new rail link between downtown and JFK Airport, the Second Avenue Subway, and East Side access to bring the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal.

Someone has got to set priorities, and they ought to begin by telling Mr. Nadler his tunnel is dead.

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Letters in response to article

Published: August 29, 2005

One person's boondoggle ... The tunnel to nowhere

Thanks to Greg David for telling it like it is in his Aug. 15 column, "NY Harbor tunnel a drain on worthier transit projects." It is truly outrageous that we continue to spend real money on a project that has no merit. Once people realize how much it costs to build and maintain this tunnel, it will become the tunnel to nowhere.

Has Congressman Jerrold Nadler produced an analysis of how much this will cost to build, operate and maintain? When I was chief financial officer of the Port Authority and looked at this in the late 1970s and the 1980s, there was no chance for it to be financially viable.

Barry Weintrob

Setting agenda for capital spending

While I disagree with Greg David's characterization of the proposed cross-harbor rail freight tunnel as a "scheme," he raises an important point about the need to set priorities for New York City's public infrastructure spending, which stands at approximately $15 billion annually.

There are a lot of players operating on the city's turf, including the president, Congress, the governors of New York and New Jersey, the mayor, five borough presidents, the state Legislature and the City Council. Each affects the shape of the public infrastructure, yet also has priorities and acts fairly independently of the others.

In a report last year, the building congress proposed that the infrastructure agenda, to the maximum extent possible, should be the mayor's. The mayor should be able to create a forum to produce a program and plan in which all capital spending agencies operating in the city are coordinated and represented.

Richard T. Anderson

President

New York Building Congress

Manhattan

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From a railfreight marketer:

Will more goods travel to Long Island via railcars if a cross harbor tunnel is constructed? Very, very unlikely. Consumer goods, especially lightweight commodities such as clothes and food items, don't really go rail anymore.

Walmart, for example, does not move a single boxcar anywhere in the Northeast, and extremely likely in the whole country. With most consumer items, you just can't get the weight required to justify a carload in a boxcar.

There is always the hope that canned goods could go by rail, but even most potential shippers have seen their rail sidings removed.

Railroad boxcars are rolling every day, but are carrying everything heavy – bricks, thousand pound rolls (each) of paper or newsprint, 100 pound bags of rice (1500 of them hand stacked per car), but nothing light. There are no shipments at all of things such as diapers, paper towels or toilet paper.

It's all gone the way of 53' trailers and double trailers, down the interstate. And it will stay that way.

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The Cross Harbor Tunnel is NOT Necessary

By Robert F. Holden

A continuous argument of Congressman Jerrold Nadler and lobbyists like Marnie MacGregor is that the New York region is uncommonly dependent on trucking. The fact is that it is not radically out of line with the national average – trucking transports 81% of the tons of freight in the New York metro area versus 78% nationwide.

Trucking is the main freight mode in NYC, as it is in many areas. Rail does play a minor role – less than 2% in New York versus 16% nationwide, but that is because water transport looms so large in NYC.

The big difference between the NYC area and the rest of the country is not rail versus trucking, but rail versus water. The New York Metro region, with islands, peninsulas and inlets, is wonderfully suited for water transport and very poorly suited for rail.

Water transportation has thrived like practically nowhere else in the United States. Waterways are natural obstacles to rail, thus making rail connections very expensive to build. Bulk products like – gravel, sand, oil, chemicals, scrap, bulk lumber – which in more land bound cities are railed – in the New York region tend to be barged.

With that said, today there are still adequate rail routes into NYC without building a $9 billion Cross Harbor tunnel between New Jersey and Brooklyn. That money would be better spent on improving existing railroad infrastructure to increase capacity and productivity.

The tunnel plan also includes a 143-acre intermodal (truck/train depot) facility in Maspeth. It would displace hundreds of existing businesses and cause massive traffic jams and pollution in an already heavily congested area (where the LIE meets the BQE).

These types of intermodal facilities already exist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania away from densely populated urban areas.

Congressman Nadler and cronies overlook 50 years of investment in warehousing and logistics centers in central and northern New Jersey out of which trucks daily distribute goods throughout the NY/NJ/CT region. These centers are convenient to the region's major ports, interstate highways, and railways. Why should they build expensive new duplicative facilities on very pricey New York City land? The answer is simple, they won't.

Yes, a major investment is needed in New York's transportation infrastructure. The billions that would be wasted on a Cross Harbor Tunnel could be better spent on improving and modernizing NYC's roads and bridges, keeping trucks on expressways (and yes, some parkways) with dedicated truck lanes & truck routes and improving existing railway infrastructure.

The Port Authority of NY/NJ has looked at a rail tunnel project many times and has consistently come to the same conclusion; it is not a viable project and Mayor Bloomberg has also come to that realization. So why is Congressman Nadler still pushing for the $9 billion pork project? Look no further than the list of his campaign contributors... www.fecinfo.com, search Nadler.

Information and facts supplied by www.tollroadsnews.com, Peter Samuel, Editor.

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Cross-Harbor Rail Link

March 20, 2005, NY Times

To the Editor:

Your March 13 editorial supporting a rail link under New York Harbor does not mention its drawbacks.

Objections come not just from Maspeth, Queens, but from other affected areas such as Jersey City and Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Borough Park and Midwood in Brooklyn. Noise, dirt and threats to the structural integrity of buildings will result from the renovation of the long-decayed Long Island Rail Road tracks running through Brooklyn.

After the project's completion, as many as 32 freight trains will traverse daily, and hazardous materials or garbage may be aboard.

The promise of reduced truck traffic is dubious because goods will be trucked from Queens to other parts of the city. Thus the hope of improved air quality is unrealistic, as even supporters of the plan anticipate only a relatively small proportion of truck reduction.

A more realistic solution to the problem of automotive pollution might start with a ban on diesel vehicles.

Charles Evans

Midwood, Brooklyn

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Spitzer backs slew of transportation projects

By: Erik Engquist, Crain's NY Business

Published: May 5, 2006 – 6:59 am

New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer on Friday endorsed a slew of major projects he called essential to the economic growth and safety of the region as part of the transportation agenda he would pursue if elected governor.

Speaking at an annual assembly of the Regional Plan Association, Mr. Spitzer said priority should go to a slew of "mega projects:"

Long Island Rail Road East Side Access, including a third track to increase capacity for the reverse commute to Long Island;

The Second Avenue subway, including extensions to the Bronx and Brooklyn;

Extending the No. 7 subway line to the West Side, which is largely a Bloomberg Administration plan;

Replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge, whose minimum cost of $5 billion should be funded by toll revenue. He said the bridge could be leased to a private operator if a long-term agreement could be reached on toll costs and job protections for bridge workers;

Upgrading Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y., including adding rail access;

Building another tunnel for commuters under the Hudson River, funded by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, said the proposed cross-harbor rail freight tunnel championed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler should be more aggressively pursued. "We must complete the long overdue draft environmental impact statement," he said.

The gubernatorial front-runner stopped short of endorsing a rail link to John F. Kennedy International Airport, calling for an environmental impact statement to help evaluate whether the project should go forward.

Mr. Spitzer also blasted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for funding much of its 2000-2004 capital program with debt, leaving it with interest costs that contribute to a projected $900 million deficit in 2009.

He added that Amtrak's Northeast corridor service should be protected, regardless of the rail company's financial difficulties elsewhere.