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NYTimes.com Article: Coalition Adds New Support for a Harbor Freight Tunnel

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    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2003
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      Coalition Adds New Support for a Harbor Freight Tunnel

      June 4, 2003

      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
      otherwise have."

      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
      Washington Bridge."

      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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