the Port of New York, by Jerrold Nadler
The revival of the Port of
New York and New Jersey and the construction of a rail freight tunnel under
the harbor are vital to the very economic survival of the City and the
future quality of life for its residents.
New York is the only major
port city in the United States that has never built a rail freight tunnel
or bridge under or over its harbor or river. The Port Authority was set
up specifically to build such a tunnel. The first Chairman of the Port
Authority, Eugenius H Outerbridge, (and when I learned his name, it answered
my childhood question, where is the inner bridge crossing?) said that the
rail freight tunnel from Bay Ridge to Bayonne was the “keystone in the
arch of the master plan.” But the Port Authority never got around to building
it, and this inaction has cost the region immensely.
Location, location, location.
New York became the center for commerce and business that it is today because
of the Erie Canal. DeWitt Clinton and others understood that if you could
connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, you could make New York
City a major hub. In 1820, New York City had 2% of the nation’s maritime
commerce, and 2% of the nation’s population. By the 1830 census, five years
after the Canal opened, New York City had 38% of the nation’s maritime
shipping. The Erie Canal allowed us to exploit our geographic location
at the entrance to the only sea level route to the interior of the continent
from the Eastern seaboard.
Keep on trucking?
The New York region is almost totally dependent on trucks. This dependence
pollutes our air, congests our streets, tears up our roads and water mains,
increases the cost of doing business and helps exacerbate our loss of manufacturing
which is not, as some people claim, inevitable. We have been losing manufacturing
jobs at a rate 6 times the national rate of loss over the last 30 years.
Probably the main reason
the region has become so truck-dependent is that there is virtually no
way to cross the Hudson River or New York Harbor, without a tunnel. This
past June, the New York City Economic Development Corporation completed
a major investment study of the tunnel, which shows that a two track tunnel
would cost approximately $2.3 billion, including associated costs for raising
clearances along certain rail lines and paying for new rail terminals.
For this investment, the economic return to the city of New York would
be about $520 million dollars a year.
The environmental impact
would be profound as well, as the tunnel would remove over one million
tractor-trailers a year from New York City streets with all the obviously
beneficial results on pollution and congestion, and the cost of doing business.
It would also make the economy more flexible and adaptable and, therefore,
more efficient. A rail freight tunnel would also make possible a major
container shipping port in Brooklyn. And that’s vital.
The challenge. A decade
or so from now there will be one major seaport on the Eastern seaboard.
New York is in competition with Halifax and Norfolk to be that hub port.
The stakes are enormous. A 1995 Port Authority study found that if we don’t
become the hub port, we will lose about 40% of our maritime traffic and
40% of the 180,000 port-dependent jobs. New York City and Port Authority
studies in the last couple of years have found that if we do become the
hub port, we have the potential to multiply port traffic over a 40-year
The solution. We have
to have good land transportation access to the port. It does no good to
land a ship, take the container off the ship and put it on a truck chassis
and have the truck get stuck, on its way to New England and to the country’s
interior, in the busiest traffic in the world on the Gowanus Expressway.
A decent rail freight system with a cross-harbor rail freight tunnel solves
There are two good sites
for container ports in New York harbor; Bayonne and Brooklyn. It makes
sense to rapidly develop a container port in Bayonne. But we also need
a container port in Brooklyn, on the other side of New York harbor, which
would require a rail freight tunnel. The highway network in Brooklyn is
over-taxed and will not accommodate another million trucks a year. With
any luck, we should have the tunnel finished nine years from now, and a
container port operating in Brooklyn within ten, which means we should
be able to beat everybody else in terms of time. Then our natural geographic
advantages will make sure we get the bulk of the Atlantic maritime commerce.
Some people think that New
York is in competition with New Jersey and that a container port in Brooklyn
would take away business from New Jersey. While this may have been true
at one point, it’s no longer true. If the forecast of a great increase
in the maritime traffic available to the Port of New York and New Jersey
is at all accurate, we are going to need every inch of container port shipping
space we can lay our hands on. We’re not going to be competing for scarce
traffic, we’re going to be trying to figure out how to handle all the traffic
we can get. It’s a regional priority to make us, to make the Port of New
York and New Jersey the hub port. But if we do that in an environmentally
sensitive way, we will be able to achieve the economic vitality in the
21st century, that we achieved in the 19th and the first half of the 20th
Jerrold Nadler is a
member of the US House of Representatives from New York’s 8th District
in lower Manhattan. This article is adapted from a speech he gave in May.
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