The Freight Cut News Volume II: Cross Harbor Tunnel vs. Cross Boro Rail vs. Cross Brooklyn Highway vs. Linear City

              WHITHER  THE  CUT?

As we outlined in the first excruciatingly long installment of this saga, the Cross Harbor Freight Program is the initiative to substantially increase tonnage moved on the Bay Ridge freight line along Argyle Height's southern border. The impetus has always been to decrease truck traffic clogging city arteries caused by the absence of a direct freight rail connection across the Hudson River.  

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: Another study overseen by the Port Authority will be undertaken to decide between building a tunnel from Bay Ridge to Jersey City OR expanding the use of an existing rail barge in Bay Ridge...AND to determine the exact cost and what steps will be necessary to alleviate the impacts on residents within 1,000 yards of the Cut caused by dramatically increased rail traffic. But let's face it: the fix is in. The powers that be want a Tunnel. The web site devoted to the May 2017 announcement of the new study mentions "tunnel" 10 times and "barge" once.

A 4 Mile Freight Tunnel From Bay Ridge to Jersey City Is One of Two Final Options. Above: An Artist's Rendering of the Tunnel.

The Existing Rail Barge At The Foot of 65th Street

Railroad Cars Floating on Barge Across The Harbor to Jersey City After Departing The 65th Street Pier in Bay Ridge


This project dates back to the birth of the Port of New York Authority in 1921 (renamed in 1972 to let New Jersey think it was co-equal) when building a freight rail tunnel to connect the Brooklyn waterfront with Jersey City's Greenville rail yards was an initial goal. Then stuff happened. Check out this Brooklyn Eagle story published February 5, 1935:

The Plan To Link Bay Ridge With Jersey City Is Soooooo Retro!
Note Lewis H. Pounds, the Father of Ditmas Park,
Was an Original Board Member of the PA

Flash forward to 1998 when Mayor Giuliani and Senators Moynihan and D'Amato announced the City and the Feds would look into building a tunnel. Since then we have had a "Major Investment Study" (Dec 2001) and a "Draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS)" (Apr 2004) and a "Notice of Intent" to conduct a "Phase I EIS" (May 2010) and a "Tier I EIS Record of Decision" (Dec 2015). 

Then (drum roll) on May 8, 2017, Governor Cuomo and the Port Authority announced a Request for Proposals to conduct another study....A "Phase II EIS."  

Over the last two decades these various reports have narrowed down 27 options to just the Enhanced Railcar Float or a new Rail Tunnel.  Both plans would use the 65th Street rail yards in Bay Ridge and the Greenville yards in Jersey City as the terminus points. Both would require the upgrade of freight facilities at 65th Street, Fresh Pond Yard, Maspeth Yard, Oak Point Yard in the Bronx and as yet unspecified locales east of NYC on Long Island. 

The Bay Ridge Line, Highlighting 1,000 Yards On Both Sides 

The Tunnel alternative would require two tracks to accommodate double-stacked train cars which would in turn necessitate raising six of the Cut bridges (or lowering the track) to allow for a 17'6" clearance. The Rail Barge would appear to include two tracks as well but it is not clear from what I have read whether it would also use double-stacked trains. 

The Argyle Heights Area. Yellow Indicates Residential Streets. Glenwood Road Is The Northern Border of the Impact Zone

In either event, there would be a huge increase in train traffic through the Cut. Left unmentioned is whether the Buckeye pipeline would be lowered or relocated. In both scenarios, loading would not occur along the right-of-way -- only at the 65th Street yard and at the other yards in Queens, Bronx and Long Island. Both alternatives were selected based in part on their being the least onerous to residents along the tracks: there would be no expansion of the Cut in either scenario. 

This final Environmental Impact Study, to be completed by early 2019, will answer concerns posed by CB 14 and others about noise, vibrations, pest control, etc. by measuring impacts within 1,000 yards of the Cut. In West Midwood, that would include everyone south of Glenwood Road. If the past is prologue, it would appear a decade or two will elapse before any 3.5 mile Tunnel under New York Harbor becomes a reality.

This 2001 Slide Was Prepared by the Port Authority


While various Tunnel and Rail Barge scenarios have been studied to death, an alternate use of the Bay Ridge freight line has also been advanced since at least 1996: a light rail circumferential passenger line, with or without a shared freight usage. In October 1996 the Regional Plan Association issued "A Region At Risk" describing a "Triboro Rx Project" which would mingle passenger and freight services along underutilized trackage in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn - one of many such recommendations to improve transit in the tri-state region. 
The Triboro Rx Is Highlighted in White

In 2008 the MTA's CEO mentioned the Triboro Rx project in his State of the MTA address"We need to take a close look at the Regional Plan Association’s circumferential subway line, which would convert the lightly used Bay Ridge freight line into a subway service that would run in an arc from southern Brooklyn to Queens to the Bronx,” he said.  But alas and alack the vision to connect 20+ subway lines was an idea the MTA never advanced further than this teasing reference.  

The name "Triboro Rx Project" was, however, resurrected by the "Move New York Fair Plan" (championed by former Flatbush resident "Gridlock Sam" Schwartz, among other mass transit advocates) which led to proposed legislation in the New York State Assembly in 2016 (Bill # A09633). However, the legislation also includes imposing tolls on the East River bridges, a death knell to countless bills in the past. Gov. Cuomo hasn't backed it and it has yet to find a Republican sponsor in the Senate so as of today, most politicos say it's as dead as the Jets prospects this season.

COMMENT, 8/14/2017: Governor Cuomo is now reportedly discussing legislation to implement a congestion-pricing tax much like the one proposed by Move New York. However, the sole impetus is to garner a new funding source for our deteriorated subway system. There is no thought being given to the "Triboro Rx" proposal. 50 years hence, when New York's population may well have reached 15 million, will folks look back and wonder why the City and State let its mass transit become completely overwhelmed by a lack of expansion? Will some pundits point to an under-utilized Cross-Harbor Tunnel that took 40 years to implement and wonder why its leaders, in 2017, actually thought truckers would suddenly switch to a more expensive alternative? 

In 2004, a fleshed-out version of the Triboro plan, dubbed the "CrossBoro Project," was proposed by a University of Pennsylvania study group. It envisaged 23 stations along the same shared freight trackage as the Triboro Rx. In our area, there would be stations at McDonald Avenue (Culver line), Avenue H (Brighton line), and Brooklyn College (IRT), with passenger service linking to all Brooklyn-Queens-Bronx subway lines. 

The CrossBoro Project Highlighted The Development That A New Circumferential Transit Line Would Encourage

The CrossBoro/Triboro Line Is Not Flood-Prone

Both Projects pointed to the reduced cost of using existing track-beds and the boost it would provide to development along under-served outer borough neighborhoods. Addressed as a love letter to newly elected Mayor de Blasio, the thorough U Penn study went nowhere. 

Instead the Mayor turned his attention to proposing a NEW light rail right-of-way, dubbed the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), extending along waterfront neighborhoods from Astoria to Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Dumbo, Cobble Hill, Red Hook and Sunset Park. Again the rationale for this Mayoral initiative is that the line would spur development along the route, expanding the City's tax base to offset what is anticipated to be an enormous cost.

The Mayor's Proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector

Note To Mayor: The BQX Will Run Through The Heart of A Flood Zone. Compare With the Flood-Free Cross-Boro Map Above. See

In 2016, two of the nation's largest architectural firms embraced the CrossBoro/Triboro Rx recommendations and proposed light rail solutions using the same LIRR tracks to encourage outer-borough development to accommodate the growing housing shortage. But missing in the GENSLER vision is any rail freight sharing the trench.

Proposed Light Rail At Avenue H and E 15th Street: GENSLER Architectural Firm of San Francisco (2016)

But it seems certain that any proposal to re-purpose the Cut absent a freight component would fail to receive any consideration at this point, despite the idyllic rendering above of the Cut as something of a Lo-Line.

Finally, there was another proposal for the Cut, dating back many decades, which now inhabits the trash heap of history. Curiously, it began as a highway proposal, then morphed into a covered highway and subway, with decking above supporting new housing and park land. 

First, in 1929 the Regional Plan Association proposed a Cross Brooklyn Expressway to connect Shore Parkway, Ocean Parkway and Eastern Parkway, using land bordering the Cut. In 1941 the NYC Planning Commission revived this idea and for the first time introduced the alternative of building over the Cut: "a route over or in the vicinity of the right-of-way of the Bay Ridge division of the Long Island Rail Road is suggested for further investigation." World War II put all such highway planning into hibernation.

In 1955, the great builder Robert Moses, then at the height of his power, laid out a master plan for new bridges and highways which included a Cross Brooklyn Expressway extending from the yet-to-be-built Verrazano Bridge all the way to Nassau County. The Cut would provide the right of way for most of its journey through southern Brooklyn.
1960: Robert Moses Ascendant

In the early 1960s, as the prospect of the City buying the LIRR from the Pennsylvania Railroad loomed, Moses licked his chops and the City signed off on his plan. In 1965, Mayor John Lindsay added an even more grandiose vision of the Cut for Moses to incorporate, a "Linear City" that would have included a commuter line running alongside the highway, through a multi-level tunnel, with parks, housing, and schools above it. But even Robert Moses couldn't wrap his mind around Lindsay's concept -- he thought the commuter line would discourage the use of cars. A true visionary. 

A 1965 engineer's drawing (below) of a cross-section of the new Expressway as it would appear in Argyle Heights shows a behemoth blocking out light and air rising out of the trench like a War of the Worlds Martian spacecraft. 

1965 NYC Department of Traffic: Proposed cross-section of the Cross Brooklyn Expressway over the LIRR Bay Ridge trench. A two-track railroad on the lowest level, three westbound lanes on the second level, a cross-street bridge on the third level, and three eastbound lanes on the top level. The monstrosity would have been at least 60 feet across. Note: The Cut is only 50 feet wide. Courtesy of

A rendering of Linear City near Brooklyn College attempted to put more lipstick on this pig. Speaking with locals on East 12th Street (aka Westminster Road) some years ago, Argyle Heights alum Patrick Howell elicited a memory from an old-timer that in the 1960s, there was a real fear that an exit ramp to Coney Island Avenue was going to annihilate the entire block.
1965 NYC Department of Traffic: A cross-section of the proposed "Linear City," looking north to Brooklyn College. Here two expressway decks and  two subway tracks were all to be stuffed underground with housing and parks above. Courtesy of

But then in a stunning development, Moses' seat of power, the Triborough Authority, was absorbed by the new Metropolitan Transportation Authority, formed to manage the newly- acquired LIRR, and Moses was forced to relinquish his power in 1968. And with his fall, the dream of a Cross Brooklyn Expressway, with or without a Linear City, died.

Oddly, the idea of building platforms across the Cut was envisaged again in 2008 when the City inventoried the thousands of acres it owned that presented "decking opportunities." 


Given the continuing growth of the City -- since 2010, we have gained an additional 350,000 residents, equivalent to the entire population of Tampa -- and the lack of any substantial bold planning ideas, I expect we will eventually see the above diagram again. 

Coming in Part Three: The Cross-Harbor Tunnel Update and Community Board Concerns

Coming in Part Four: "It Came From The Cut" -- The new sci-fi epic featuring rabid dogs, Bigfoot and space aliens, all in one movie!

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