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Neighbors oppose, but unions back harbor tunnel at Queens public hearing

From left, Local 147 union members John Ferreira

From left, Local 147 union members John Ferreira of Rockville Centre, Greg Steck of Freeport and Richard Smith of Mineola after a public hearing on a proposed freight rail tunnel and other ways of improving freight traffic through New York Harbor, at Queens Borough Hall on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

A proposed rail freight tunnel under New York Harbor drew support from union workers and environmental groups at a public hearing Tuesday evening in Queens but a coalition of community groups said it would damage the quality of life in Queens neighborhoods that would bear the brunt of the increased railroad activity.

Instead of a tunnel, planners should pursue expansion of the current barge system that moves rail cars across the water from New Jersey to Brooklyn, where they are put back on tracks and moved through Queens to Long Island, the chairwoman of the Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions said.

Creating a tunnel, one of 10 plans under consideration, would take 3,000 trucks off Hudson River crossings daily, but would add 8,200 trucks each day because of increased shipments to local streets in Queens, Brooklyn and New Jersey, said Mary Parisen, chairwoman of the civics group.

The added trucks would cause congestion and reduce air quality in Brooklyn and Queens, "which, we need to remember, was a reason to consider this project," Parisen said. "This would have a devastating impact on existing neighborhoods."

She and 11 others spoke at Queens Borough Hall at the seventh and final public hearing on a preliminary environmental impact statement on the 10 proposals put forward by the Port Authority to improve rail freight in the region. Five people testified at last week's Long Island hearing in Hauppauge, and all five said that any of the 10 proposals would benefit the Island.

John Ferreiro, 44, of Rockville Centre said Tuesday he and fellow members of Local 147 Laborers' International Union of North America need the jobs that a tunnel project would provide. "The jobs created would be good, middle-class jobs that are the backbone of our city," he said. About a half dozen other members of the union also attended the hearings.

Justin Wood, an organizer with the Environmental Justice Program of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said taking trucks off the road would reduce carbon emissions and improve the health of New Yorkers.

Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said the tunnel would reduce air pollution, ease the wear and tear on local roads and boost the local economy by making freight shipping more efficient.

The Port Authority and its government partner, the Federal Highway Administration, will close the public comment period March 20 and will make a recommendation by this summer on whether to conduct further study of one or more of the 10 proposals.

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