NYTimes.com Article: Coalition Adds New Support for a Harbor Freight Tunnel
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Coalition Adds New Support for a Harbor Freight Tunnel
June 4, 2003
By JANNY SCOTT
A proposal to reduce truck traffic in New York City and the
region by building a rail freight tunnel under New York
Harbor got new support yesterday when a broad group of
business, labor, environmental and civic leaders announced
that they had formed a coalition to lobby for federal money
for the project.
The coalition, which includes representatives of groups
ranging from the Sierra Club and the Brooklyn Chamber of
Commerce to the state A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Rev. Calvin O.
Butts III, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, wants
Congress to help pay for the project out of a
transportation spending bill currently up for
The group, called MoveNY, says the tunnel would divert
nearly a million truck trips a year from the George
Washington Bridge, reduce pollution in city neighborhoods
with high asthma rates, cut traffic delays in the region,
generate tens of thousands of jobs, save highway
maintenance costs and limit the risks of terrorism
presented by unscreened trucks.
"It's clearly technically feasible to do this tunnel," said
Francis X. McArdle, managing director of the General
Contractors Association of New York and a member of the
coalition. "And we believe that it is an economic advantage
to this region to make this investment. Not only will it
help us to continually grow, but it gives us some
opportunities for economic development that we would not
Representative Jerrold L. Nadler, a Manhattan Democrat, has
been interested in the project throughout the last 20
years. Skeptics who considered the idea in its earlier
incarnations have argued that the reduction in truck
traffic would be smaller than proponents contend because
most freight would still move by truck within the city.
They have also said the city was no longer a competitive
location for the kind of high-volume, mass-production
industries that rely heavily on rail.
"It's a 19th-century project that's two centuries too
late," said Mitchell L. Moss, director of the Taub Urban
Research Center at New York University and a co-author of a
1998 analysis of the tunnel idea. "And this project
represents a threat to much more important priorities to
the city and the region."
The idea of a rail freight connection by tunnel between New
Jersey and the area across New York Harbor has been tossed
around since the 1920's, Mr. McArdle and others said. For
many years, rail freight was transported across the harbor
by float bridge. But even that ended after the merger of
the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads in 1968 and
the subsequent creation of Conrail in 1976.
Now less than 2 percent of all freight coming in and out of
the region is transported by rail, compared with 40 percent
in cities nationally, Mr. Nadler said. The nearest railroad
crossing over the Hudson is 140 miles north of the city in
Selkirk, just south of Albany.
"We've got a real crisis now in goods movement, and it's
only going to get worse," said Robert D. Yaro, president of
the Regional Plan Association and a member of the
coalition. "The volumes of freight moving into and through
the region are increasing at about 3 percent a year. Over a
decade, that's by a third. And you think about what
congestion is like on the George Washington Bridge and the
Tappan Zee now. There's just no place to put it."
The 19 coalition members range from labor union leaders
including Dennis Rivera, president of Local 1199 of the
Service Employees International Union; and
environmentalists like James T. B. Tripp, general counsel
for Environmental Defense, formerly the Environmental
Defense Fund; to business leaders like Kenneth Adams,
president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; and civic
activists like Dr. Rafael A. Lantigua, chairman of the
board of directors of Alianza Dominicana, the largest
Dominican social service agency in the city.
Dr. Lantigua, an internist and professor of clinical
medicine at Columbia University, said he joined the
coalition because he has lived in Washington Heights his
entire life and works there. He has "no doubt that the
amount of bronchial asthma that we see in this area is
linked to the pollution of the traffic across the George
The tunnel would create a Hudson River crossing connecting
freight railroads in New Jersey to unused railroads in
Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Mr. Nadler said the most recent
estimate of the cost of the tunnel alone was $1.8 billion;
the cost of the entire project, including rail
improvements, has been put at $7 billion.
Members of the coalition said they wanted to persuade
Congress to pay for the design and perhaps the next steps
of the project out of the Transportation Equity Act for the
21st Century, a pending bill that is intended to pay for
major transportation projects for the next six years.
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