Waterways and rails can help ease traffic on NYC’s roadways

The city’s streets and highways endure the constant rumble of trucks and tractor-trailers loaded with cargo of all shapes and …

The city’s streets and highways endure the constant rumble of trucks and tractor-trailers loaded with cargo of all shapes and sizes. As the traffic and condition of our roads worsen, the region’s economy, environment and quality of life suffer, too.

In Queens and Brooklyn, 95 percent of all freight is carried by trucks. Now, city officials hope to get some trucks and tractor-trailers — and the freight they carry — off the roads. Last month, NYC introduced a serious plan called Freight NYC to shift more freight to waterways and rails. The city proposes building barge terminals at Hunts Point in the Bronx, at the site of the wholesale food market and distribution center, and at South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park, and suggests using inland waterways like Newtown Creek between Queens and Brooklyn, too. City officials also would build distribution facilities in the two boroughs along existing rail tracks.

These are modest but important steps that could move the city toward greater reliance on trains, boats and barges. Those improvements could create 5,000 jobs in 10 years, while cutting 40 million truck miles a year, and expand upon existing infrastructure, like Red Hook’s container terminal, where importers bring in everything from bananas to lumber. There’s also the possibility of looking inland. City officials plan to evaluate several locations for a port farther from the coastline, but along existing rails.

Then there’s the long-sought rail tunnel from New Jersey to Brooklyn. It would be large enough to hold a double stack of containers and two tracks side by side. The Port Authority is preparing to start further environmental studies, while also considering the alternative of moving freight via an expanded railcar “float” system that could carry as many as 75,000 rail cars a year.

Rail and water won’t eliminate all trucks. State and local officials have to tackle the “last mile” — how trucks carry goods from terminals and barges to warehouses and stores. The other challenge: Meeting the needs of communities and residents. So far, city officials say residents in affected neighborhoods seem to be on board, but questions remain in Hunts Point, where some worry that proposed changes to Sheridan Expressway could bring truck traffic to local streets. They’ll have to be addressed.

Nonetheless, the benefits of growing rail and water freight travel would be worth the effort.

All aboard.

The Editorial Board