Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel environmental review resumes after COVID pause

Governor Hochul holds a press conference about the Interborough Express at the Brooklyn Army Terminal on Jan. 20.
Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will revive an environmental study for a proposal to transport freight across the New York Harbor via an underwater tunnel, Governor Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday.

The Authority had to hit the brakes on the so-called Tier 2 environmental impact statement for the project in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic depleted federal dollars, but the project’s longtime booster Congressman Jerry Nadler was able to get the feds to reallocate money to jumpstart the scheme again, according to the governor.

“We are aggressively moving forward with the next phase of development for the Cross Harbor Rail Freight project as we look to reimagine New York’s transportation infrastructure,” said Hochul in a statement.

The study will look at boring a 4-mile tunnel from Jersey City to Brooklyn or expanding the Authority’s existing carfloat system with new transfer bridges, barges, trains, and tracks.

On the New York side, the trains will connect to the same rail line that is also slated to be the home of Hochul’s proposed Interborough Express mass transit project, and the EIS will examine how the two will work “in concert,” according to the governor’s office.

The right of way currently only carries up to three freight trips per day, and the new infrastructure would allow that traffic to increase to up to 21 trains by 2035, helping to reduce the dependence on trucks, according to officials.

“The Cross-Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel would connect New York’s metropolitan region to the national rail freight grid by diverting trucks from our streets to the underutilized rail network,” said Nadler in a statement. ““It will change the way we move freight throughout our region, leading to economic, environmental, health, safety and cost-saving benefits for millions of people.”

The Port Authority began working on first environmental review in 2014, before launching its second phase in 2018, choosing consultants with STV and AKRF for the analysis, before it ground to a halt two years later.

Nadler has been pushing the project for 30 years and was able to get the Federal Highway Administration to bring funds back to the study.

The EIS will look at impacts of either the tunnel or the carfloat expansion, and is required in order to unlock federal funds.

“With major projected increases in freight movement over the next two decades, delays in goods movement will only worsen unless the shipping and distribution industry has attractive alternatives to shipping by truck,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. “Our goal is to explore these alternatives and identify cost-effective approaches to future freight movement that can reduce the number of trucks on the region’s roads and highways.”

Hochul unveiled the proposal for a 14-mile mass transit line from Brooklyn to Queens during her State of the State address last month, a scaled-back version of the so-called Triboro that would have run an extra 10 miles into the Bronx. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority heads that effort and recently released a 2020 preliminary feasibility study, but is planning to also do an environmental review in order to get support from Uncle Sam.