Thursday, November 18, 2010

Maspeth Residents Won't Stand for any Study to Increase Truck Traffic

Laura Shabe gives presentation about the Port Authority's EIS
By Eric Yun

Truck traffic is a constant and serious concern in Maspeth where living adjacent to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the Long Island Expressway creates a torrent of trucks travelling through the neighborhood. For the last decade, community activists have fought to relieve truck and traffic congestion in Maspeth, and they have serious reservations about the recently revived Cross Harbor Freight Program being considered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In 2004 the community fought and won a battle against a plan that called for a harbor tunnel connecting New Jersey and Brooklyn, which would have required a 143-acre intermodal station in Maspeth. The tunnel wasn’t necessary, the opponents of the plan said, and the intermodal station would inundate Maspeth with pollution from trains and in- creased truck traffic. Mayor Michael Bloomberg denounced the plan and it was eventually killed.

Now the Port Authority and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal High Administration (USDOT) is reopening ideas to improve the movement of goods around New York Harbor—specifically how goods move east of the Hudson River to the west and vice versa.

Port Authority officials held a public meeting about the Cross Harbor Freight Program, hosted by Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) at Frank Kawalinski Post in Maspeth Tuesday night. With the bitter taste of the previous plan of a tunnel and intermodal station plus their present frustration with truck traffic, Maspeth residents came out to demand that under no circumstances should there be an increase in trucks.

“We don’t want any more trucks,” said Roe Daraio, president of COMET. That simple sentence was echoed by the residents who at- tended the meeting.
For the Port Authority officials, this is the type of input they expected and needed to hear. The freight program is currently undergoing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study (EIS). The NEPA study is part of a larger process all important decision-making must undergo, explained USDOT rep John Formosa.

The Tier 1 EIS aims to gather data and community input on the project to see how different alternatives could positively or negatively impact neighborhoods and if the alternatives make economic sense. The data from the Tier 1 study is later taken to a Tier 2 EIS where individual alternatives are more rigorously tested.

The possible alternatives for the program fall in three broad categories. The no action alternative examines what would happen if the Port Authority and USDOT did nothing. The management alternative attempts to see what would happen if changes were made in the operational structures of existing infrastructures. Finally, the build alternative looks to predict what would happen if expanded float and ferry system, rail tunnel and intermodal stations were implemented.

For the Port Authority the no action alternative is unacceptable. Maintaining the status quo would lead to almost a 33 percent increase in traffic and associated costs in New York City, according to Laura Shabe, Port Authority manager of the Cross Harbor Freight Program.

“Traffic is nearing catastrophic levels,” Shabe said. Traffic on the LIE is expected to worsen by 49 percent over the years if no action is taken.

Using the existing freight rail system, which is “underutilized and already built,” is one hard solution Shabe is studying to ease the traffic flow.

These alternatives, however, are unacceptable to Maspeth residents. The general consensus from letters sent to the Port Authority by civic groups and politicians as well as the residents at the COMET meeting was that while attempting to decrease truck traffic is an admirable goal, any plans that don’t seriously
investigate the impact it could have on communities would be unacceptable.

Mary Parisen and Laura Zimmer, co-chairs of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES), wrote, “We urge the Port Authority of New York and New Jersy and the Federal Highway Administration to fulfill their responsibility to ensure that this project serves the needs of the people living in the region and protects and improves our environment for future generation.”

Manny Caruana said at the meeting that instead of solving the truck problem communities would just see a flood of smaller trucks transporting goods from increased rail use.

“The trains have to drop off goods somewhere,” agreed Daraio, and the trucks would have to at some point take the goods on the road. And for residents who have long felt like a whipping boy in truck traffic, they understandably fear Maspeth would be the worst affected.

Trains aren’t free of problems either as existing rail use in the community is already a serious quality of life issue. Maspeth and the surrounding communities are currently fighting loud idling trains and the noxious stench emanating from freights that carry municipal solid waste through their neighborhoods.

If freights were to carry goods through Maspeth, the commodity transported is a concern. The neighborhood would not stand for more garbage trains.

Residents including Christina Wilkinson questioned why the focus was on rail traffic. The focus should be on studying and utilizing the existing marine barges to transport goods by water instead of any increase in land traffic. Members of CURES agreed and urged the Port Authority to include an in depth marine analysis similar to their study of rail and truck traffic.

Shabe understands the communities concerns, but she stressed that dismissively denouncing the EIS would not help. “The status quo is what’s causing the problem,” she told The Forum. There was even a possibility that the study could shed further light on existing problems like the Fresh Pond Rail Yard that could be fixed during the implementation of program.

Formosa said this was just the first of many meetings with concerned Maspeth residents as the EIS continues. “We need to be fully open-minded and make data-based decisions that’s best for the community,” he said.

The final draft of the Tier 1 EIS is expected in the summer of 2011.

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