Op-Ed: Congressman Nadler NY Daily News Op-Ed on Modernizing NYC's Freight Distribution Systems

Jul 16, 2018 Issues: New York and Our Neighborhoods

Published July 16 in the New York Daily News

Today, traffic congestion is a serious problem for New Yorkers. The average car speed in midtown Manhattan is 4.7 miles per hour, practically glacial compared to traveling by Citi Bike or pedicab. Moreover, these idling vehicles emit huge quantities of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, which compromise our air quality.

With New York’s population projected to exceed 9 million by 2040, it’s imperative for us and our colleagues at every level of government to rethink how to get more vehicles off our roads. One key way to do this is to reduce our dependency on trucks, which carry nearly 90% of the city’s goods into the five boroughs. That’s why the city is today announcing FreightNYC, an ambitious plan to move fewer goods by truck, better utilize our waterways and rail lines, and modernize our distribution facilities.

These vital upgrades will strengthen our economy, keep our city the greatest in the world, and create nearly 5,000 jobs in the process. And when the plan is fully enacted, it will eliminate roughly 40 million truck miles each year, which is more than the distance of traveling to the moon and back 80 times.

Though they don’t get much attention, freight distribution systems are the unsung heroes of infrastructure. People travel through airports and ride on subways, but don’t see how their green beans and peanut butter make it to the local grocery store. Similarly, many don’t know how the construction materials that build our homes get into our city, or how Amazon packages reach their front door.

Speaking of Amazon, projections show there will be a 68% increase in goods volume in the area by 2045, due in large part to the exploding trend of online shopping. Increasingly, shoppers are buying goods online and want them delivered within days, if not hours, from the time they complete their purchase. But for New Yorkers, more online shopping means more truck shipments that clog our aging roads and put additional stress on our bridges.

It’s indisputable that trucks are critical to the freight economy. We will always need them to move goods those last few miles to their final destination. But all too often, these vehicles are too big for our narrow city streets, resulting in higher fuel costs, lost time, and frustration for residents. Over the next 30 years, truck congestion and delays alone could cost New York over $27 billion in lost economic activity.

Barges and trains, on the other hand, are seven to nine times more fuel efficient than trucks on a per-ton, per-mile-carried basis. That’s why Freight NYC recognizes the value that trucks bring in moving goods through the last mile, but far better optimizes the use of our waterways and freight rail lines.

Though many New Yorkers rarely see our coastline, the city has roughly 520 miles of waterfront and should be moving more goods along these marine highways. With Freight NYC, we are promoting barging as an alternative to trucking. One way we are doing this is by creating a barge terminal to serve the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center in the South Bronx, which processes an almost unfathomable 4.5 billion pounds of food annually.

In Sunset Park, we are working to build a barge terminal at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal as part of the site’s long-term plan. Together, these initiatives will take trucks off the road, reduce air pollution, transport goods faster, and create thousands of good-paying jobs.

Moving more freight to rail will yield similar benefits. We are already working with our partners at the Port Authority to bring the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel to life; over the long term, this important initiative would transform how freight arriving from the south and west of New York enters the boroughs. Freight NYC builds on this momentum and looks to make better use of our rail lines.

As part of the plan, we have committed to building new transload facilities; these are places where shipments can be transferred from one mode of transportation to another, or directly into distribution facilities. They will provide industrial, construction and food-related businesses with direct access to the national rail network. This move is both sound public policy and good for business. Collectively, these actions will propel us into a future where we can get our goods faster and make our city stronger.

If our freight system were to experience a major disruption, the city would grind to a halt. So it’s unacceptable that today, New York is relying on an old-fashioned model to transport goods. If we don’t course correct and upgrade our system now, we’ll be paying for it sooner than later with slow shipments, bottlenecked roads, and polluted air.

With Freight NYC, this workhorse system is finally getting the attention it deserves. And with these targeted improvements, thousands of accessible jobs will become available to New Yorkers, Amazon shipments will be delivered on time, and grocery store shelves will be stocked for years to come, all while making our roadways and lungs clearer.