The Freight Cut News Volume III -- UPDATED OCTOBER 2019

UPDATE (October 16, 2019)

Today NY-1 has been running a story that claims the MTA has decided to study the Regional Plan Association (RPA) proposal, known as "Triboro Rx," that would share the Bay Ridge freight tracks -- in our neck of the woods, the cut south of Avenue H -- with a new light rail line connecting with 17 other subway/elevated/commuter lines. 
October 16, 2019 Report by NY-1

In July 2019 Assemblywoman Latrice Walker representing Brownsville/East New York introduced a bill requiring the MTA to study this two decade old RPA proposal. The bill was sent to Committee months ago where it has languished. I called Ms. Walker's office and they were unaware of this news report, and as of five minutes ago, there has been no MTA press release about this. Moreover the NY-1 reporter stated the MTA would conduct a feasibility study "by the end of the year." HaHaHa! The reason I laugh is that the Port Authority has been studying the feasibility of creating a cross-harbor tunnel into which the existing freight line would feed for many many years. In fact the Port Authority was created almost 100 years ago in order to build such a tunnel. 

Finally, the RPA argument for this new line boils down to this: "More than 50 percent of New York’s job growth in the last 15 years has occurred outside Manhattan" and a light rail line interconning all of Brooklyn and Queens subway lines would make it much easier for us outer borough folks to get around and increase development in areas that are presently underserved by mass transit. It would also make it a lot easier for me to get to CitiField, which, let's face it, is why a shallow guy like me really cares.

UPDATE (March 2018)

Proposed Triboro Rx: Light Rail Shares LIRR Cut

As a brief update to my recent series on the Cross Harbor Tunnel--the project to convert the LIRR freight train cut into an upgraded transport running to and from a new tunnel extending from Bay Ridge to Jersey City-- there have been these recent developments: 1) On February 1, the Port Authority awarded a $23.7 million contract to the same folks who did the Environmental Impact Study for the Tappan Zee Bridge and the 2nd Avenue Subway. Although the RFP specified a one-year study, the contract now stretches the work into 2021. Wheee! 2) The Regional Plan Association, which is beholden to no politicians or corporate interests, released a monumental set of recommendations on November 30th, which emphasized the need for light rail to share the Bay Ridge freight line, thereby connecting with 17 other passenger rails across the five boroughs. Moreover, they recommended the tunnel should cross the Narrows and terminate in Staten Island, not New Jersey. The somnambulant press reported only one of their many proposals, however: that the subways shut down after midnight to complete the repairs necessary to modernize the signal/control systems. Required reading -- click HERE

Community Board Concerns About The Cut

If you are new to the Cross Harbor Tunnel topic, you can catch up by clicking this video link (or paste this link into your browser: Or, God forbid you can read my two earlier exhaustive and exhausting posts on this issue here and here.

In March of 2015 Community Board 14 (aka CB14, or Community District 14, aka CD14), chaired by Argyle Heights' own Alvin Burke, provided the following concerns about the Port Authority's project which will now be specifically addressed in the final Environmental Impact Study for the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel (hereafter CHFT - although CB 14 used the acronym of CHFP since at that time the Tunnel was only one of many options, so they used "Project" to be more inclusive.) At the time, many alternatives were then under consideration, which have since been discarded. This summary therefore will only concentrate on the issues involving the Tunnel alternative (I suppose here I should point out that an enhanced rail barge option is still officially under consideration but it has no proponents other than some tug boat dudes, while a tunnel is supported by the entire power structure of New York City and State)

In any event, here is a heavily edited presentation of their concerns:

1) Freight traveling through Brooklyn can use any of three major truck routes to get to Queens, Nassau, or Suffolk County destinations: Interstate 278, Atlantic Avenue, or NY State Route 27. The southernmost of these routes, NY27 [essentially Caton Avenue/Fort Hamilton Parkway from Flatbush Avenue to East 6th Street] traverses a densely-populated area in our District, where it borders public athletic fields, a public school and a public playground, intersects at grade level with local streets and north-south arterials, and carries a slow-moving mix of through and local traffic. According to the Project, the Tunnel could reduce truck traffic on NY 27. The Board recommended that baseline traffic data be collected at the intersection of Caton Avenue and Flatbush Avenue and also along Flatbush Avenue to enable projections of any reductions in truck traffic. Similarly, baseline measures should be taken for air quality and noise.

Proposed 4 Mile Tunnel From Bay Ridge to Jersey City

2) The Tunnel scenario would increase Brooklyn's eastbound freight-carrying capacity on the Bay Ridge Line of the New York & Atlantic Railway as it traverses Brooklyn CD14 from west to east, creating implications for land use, air quality, noise, natural resources, and hazardous materials in the vicinity of the Bay Ridge Line right-of-way.

3) The Land Use section of the Tier I Environmental Impact Study (EIS) ignores the potential for increases in rail traffic on the Bay Ridge Line to affect neighborhood character. We believe that increased train operation and right-of-way preparation would create public concern that could trigger disinvestment by local property owners, thereby lowering property values. In turn, this could precipitate a change in the character of the adjoining neighborhoods by destabilizing existing populations, and could reduce New York City's real estate tax base. Furthermore, the referenced expansion of the Bay Ridge Line right-of-way could prompt speculative changes in adjacent property ownership, and discourage development plans: another indirect effect. We are concerned about the failure to discuss whether the direct land use effects can be mitigated, and its failure to acknowledge the potential for indirect land use effects along the Bay Ridge Line.

Area Likely To Be Affected by Construction and Noise In Argyle Heights Extends to Glenwood Road on North

4) Public acceptance will be facilitated by a firm commitment to use locomotives that do not depend on conventional diesel or other internal combustion engines. The CHFT's contemplated growth in train traffic could substantially elevate local emissions levels unless ultra-low emissions engines or electric motors are used for locomotion.

5) Among the environmental effects likely to make residing, working, or studying near a rail line unpleasant, noise must rank high. Noise mitigation must be effective. All techniques should be explored. Failure to achieve substantial noise mitigation would be one of the first reasons Bay Ridge Line neighbors move away.
Larger Area to be Studied by Port Authority For Environmental Impacts, From Brooklyn College to Bay Ridge

6) With respect to noise measurement, CB14 wishes to offer some comments on techniques. First, the community board questions the appropriateness of using average absolute sound levels over extended periods, and do not directly indicate peak sound levels, as when trains are passing. Transient levels are what correlates with human sensibility. Those levels must be revealed. According to the EIS Table 6.7-2, typical noise levels for locomotive-driven freight trains are 80-90 VdB at 50 feet. Absent substantial mitigation, numerous residences near the Bay Ridge Line would be subjected to these levels. 

The same table indicates that, at these sound levels, there would be “difficulty with vibration-sensitive tasks, such as reading a video screen.” CB14 reminds the CHFT team that Brooklyn College is adjacent to the Bay Ridge Line in CD14. Moreover, the threshold for “residential annoyance” is lower. Numerous residential buildings abut the right-of-way. Mitigation must bring noise levels well below the "residential annoyance" threshold.  
Futuristic View of The Cut Starting Circa 2040 (Or Starting Circa 2140, Given NY History of Tunnel Building)

Second, the Board objects to the selection of Tier I noise measurement receptor sites within Community District 14. Table 6.7-6 identifies a site at the dead end of East 22nd Street between Campus Road and Avenue I. Here, distance to the receptor site is 55 feet from railroad cut center line. (The LIRR property apparently is 110 feet wide at this point.) The arbitrary choice of this location for noise level measurement obscures the narrowing of the railroad line west of East 16th Street to 88 feet, where, as elsewhere, residential structures abut the cut and can be as close as 44 feet to the track bed center line.1 The choice of receptor sites should be changed for Tier II.  Third, the use of a single "track bed center line" for purposes of determining distances to receptor sites is appropriate only for a single track. If the rail cut is to contain two tracks, then noise levels must be calculated based on the lesser of the distances to receptor sites from the center line of each track. Fourth, the standards must be made transparent. The EIS states that “Allowable CHFT noise exposure levels were identified based on existing noise levels, as measured for the 2004 EIS or calculated using FTA methodology.” The PANYNJ web page for the CHFT does not provide a link to the 2004 DEIS. The current measurement methodology must be specified.

Thru Truck Routes in Orange Above. A Rail Freight Tunnel Would Presumably Reduce Vehicular Traffic in 2040 (or 2140) Depending On Whether Trucks (Or Humans) Still Exist 

7) CB14 insists that noise, traffic, and dust from construction along the Bay Ridge Line right-of-way must be fully mitigated. The Tier I EIS acknowledges the potential for construction to affect quality of life. "Despite the fact that construction activity would occur largely within the existing rail yards and rights-of-way, construction work may occur near residences, community facilities and parks... Therefore, there remains the potential for construction period activities to affect neighborhood character, community facilities, and open space as a result of construction related effects to transportation, air quality, noise, and visual and aesthetic conditions associated with construction activities."  The effects of vibration must be fully mitigated. Structures close to the rail cut may be susceptible to damage. All structures within a defined distance from the cut should be inspected prior to any excavation or demolition associated with the CHFT. Building owners should be provided with the inspection results and be afforded an opportunity to comment. Finally, restrictions on hours of work must be employed. The Tier II EIS must separately analyze noise along the rail line generated by construction, and noise generated by train operation, and, based on each analysis, evaluate the mitigating value of limitations placed on work hours and operating hours.
Opossum Are Harmless 

8) The proposed depression of the tracks to accommodate higher freight cars, coupled with the required relocation of the Buckeye Pipeline, would displace fauna that inhabit the railroad cut. According to the Tier I EIS, these include rats, opossums, and raccoon, among others. 

Die Raccoons, Die

The Tier II EIS must acknowledge the need for construction-related pest control measures extending beyond the boundaries of the railroad cut to be funded through the Project. The specifications for such pest control should be determined only after consultation with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and local community boards.
South Side of Cut At E 17th St 

9) The Bay Ridge Line rail cut currently is habitat to trees and other vegetation, which currently provide air quality benefits in the vicinity and attenuate noise emanating from the cut. The EIS process must take into account these benefits, and propose measures to compensate for their loss.

10) A search through the 14-volume Hazardous Materials appendix to the Tier I EIS (Appendix E-1 through E-14) did not reveal any target sites within CD14. Community Board 14 requests that this hazardous materials review yield a report organized by NYC community district.
Buckeye Pipeline Dates to 1960s

11) The Buckeye Pipeline currently carries jet fuel, as well as other hazardous products, to JFK Airport and other destinations. The project contemplates relocation of the pipeline to enable the track bed to be lowered and widened. Resolution of all pipeline relocation issues need to be addressed.

Conclusion: Brooklyn Community Board 14 believes that the CHFT could offer substantial benefits for regional freight transportation and resiliency. Those alternatives relying exclusively on trains could offer measurable environmental benefits for CD14 residents, businesses and institutions in the immediate vicinity of NY Route 27. However, any such benefits probably would come at the cost of the environmental and economic costs facing their neighbors to the south: the residents, businesses and institutions near the Bay Ridge Line, if rail traffic there is to be substantially increased. 

Tunnel Would Go Where No Sand Hogs Have Yet Ventured

If regional forces were to prevail, and if the CHFT were to move ahead, all adverse environmental impacts caused by construction or operation of the Bay Ridge Line would have to be fully mitigated. So would the fear caused by those impacts. Failure to do this could subject Brooklyn Community District 14 to years of economic and social instability. Unfortunately, the history of transportation projects approaching the magnitude of the CHFT suggests that skepticism is the appropriate way to view mitigation plans. 

Finally, Brooklyn Community Board 14 believes that, among the other Tier I deficiencies noted above, the absence of any Tier I hazardous materials survey at intermediate sites along the Bay Ridge Line, and the lack of an evaluation of the feasibility of relocating the Buckeye Pipeline, render the Tier I EIS inadequate.

The new Environmental Impact Study will be completed by the end of 2018 and at that point, assuming all systems are still go, the funding adventure would begin. If billions of dollars equivalent to the gross national product of New Zealand can be found, the construction adventure would then commence, which we estimated in previous posts would not be completed until at least 2040, although 2140 is also a conceivable finish line at this stage, given New York’s tunnel-building history.

In closing, thank you, Alvin Berk, for your assistance on this piece and your work on so many issues affecting our neighborhood. Also, thank you, Laura Givner, editor par excellence of the West Midwood Community Association Newsletter for more years than I can count. If you’ve enjoyed any of my articles, Laura has been a big part of their success.

And finally, happy holidays everybody. Peace on Earth.

65th Street Rail Yard: Barge Dock, Top Left

this blog


Popular Posts