Bloomberg Warms to the Freight-Rail Tunnel Again

It’s been four years since Mayor Bloomberg changed his stance on a proposed freight rail tunnel that would run from Brooklyn to New Jersey. At the time, speaking in an affected neighborhood in Queens, he reversed his prior statements and staked out a position of opposition to the project, which was estimated in 2005 to cost $7 billion.

Now in an election year, again, he seems to have changed course.

Speaking Monday at an event in Sunset Park on city investment in the industrial waterfront, Mr. Bloomberg offered some words of support to the proposed cross-harbor tunnel, calling it “a good long-term solution.”

Still, he was quick to couch his statements in conditionals, essentially endorsing the concept so long as the negative impacts aren’t too negative.

“I think we have to find a ways to make sure that it is economically sustainable and its impact on neighborhoods where you go in and out is something that we can manage,” Mr. Bloomberg said.  

The project has been relentlessly championed by Representative Jerry Nadler, the Manhattan West Side and southern Brooklyn Democrat who enjoys little more than talking endlessly about the need for better infrastructure and a working waterfront. Since at least the 1980s, he has been saying the growing city will choke on truck traffic without a new way to handle freight, but it has yet to advance past early planning stages.

His passion for the project show in his choice of words to describe it. Speaking at the Sunset Park press conference Monday, he called it a “monumental issue for our time,” and “the lynchpin of our efforts to rationalize the way we move goods throughout our region.”

It would need a huge injection of billions, likely from multiple sources—the federal government is one clear target of Mr. Nadler’s—and it is hardly an issue for elected officials to rally around. It is, after all, a freight rail tunnel, and there is some NIMBY opposition to a piece of the project in Queens. (In 2007, after he unveiled his PlaNYC sustainability program, Mr. Bloomberg expressed openness to the tunnel again, saying it was “not the world’s worst idea.”)

 

THE TALK OF THE RAIL tunnel came as the mayor announced a series of initiatives along the Brooklyn waterfront—many of which were already in motion—to invigorate industrial portions of the shore. Called the “Sunset Park Waterfront Vision Plan,” the mayor called for $165 million in city funds for the creation and renovation of industrial space and other related initiatives. [corrected from an earlier version]

The announcement is indicative of a broader trend within the city’s economic development arm, which is seemingly warming to the concept of the industrial waterfront. Back in the early days of his administration, there was considerable tension between the concept of a working waterfront and the visions of then-Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who called for the city to reclaim its shoreline by favoring higher-value residential development and parkland.

But in the past two or three years, there has been a noticeable shift in emphasis: much of the waterfront near Manhattan has already been rezoned for residential, and the economy clearly doesn’t allow for 30-story condo towers to rise by, say, Sunset Park or Bay Ridge.

The city has called for the creation of more drydocks—contradicting an earlier action when officials allowed Ikea to dismantle a large drydock in Red Hook—and Monday unveiled a “vision plan” for the Sunset Park industrial waterfront.

The mayor, for his part, brushed off questions about a shift in emphasis, saying that he has pushed a need for both industrial and residential along the water.

But Mr. Nadler, long a critic of the Bloomberg administration on these issues, was quick to laud the mayor on his shift on industrial issues Monday. “After many years of spirited discussion on port-related matters,” he said, “I am so pleased to say that we are now all in agreement on the general goals moving forward regarding port development and now have only differences on timing.”

Bloomberg Warms to the Freight-Rail Tunnel Again