The recently-released annual report from the American Transportation Research Institute, a non-profit trucking industry research group, identifies the top locations in the country where truckers encounter delays. Not surprisingly, New Jersey has once again cracked the top three.
According to the report, the George Washington Bridge approach where Interstate 95 and NJ Route 4 meet in Fort Lee is the second-most congested bottleneck in the nation for truckers. The report found that truck traffic approaching the George Washington Bridge is slowest on average between 7 and 9 a.m., when the average speed is below 25 mph. Traffic slows again to about 30 mph in the evening rush from 5 to 7 p.m.
But it is important to consider that this congestion is at least in part attributable to the fact that the New York Metro area is an anomaly when it comes to freight movement. While almost 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight moves by rail, in New York City and its surrounding counties, it’s only 1.8 percent. And it’s not just New York that feels the impact: over 90 percent of freight that crosses the Hudson River is moved by truck, clogging up New Jersey’s roads as well. What’s more, these problems will only be exacerbated in the coming decades as New Jersey’s truck traffic is expected to increase. According to the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority’s Plan 2040, with overall commodity flows into, out of, and within New Jersey expected to increase by about 43 percent but freight movement modal share expected to remain the same, the number of trucks travelling on New Jersey’s major highways are expected to increase significantly — 6,000 more trucks per day on segments of I-95, and 2,500-3,000 more trucks per day on segments of I-78 and I-287.
This is an already untenable situation that, without action, is only going to get worse. But with both the Trump administration and senate Democrats floating proposals for upgrading America’s infrastructure, the Port Authority, regional businesses and elected officials should be calling for some of those funds to be spent on a Cross Harbor Freight Rail Tunnel. The proposed tunnel would allow freight trains to cross from New Jersey to Brooklyn, enabling goods to reach locations east of the Hudson by rail instead of truck (or barge). Such a connection could remove 500,000 trucks annually from the George Washington Bridge and surrounding counties. That translates into a reduction of 157,000 fewer truck vehicle miles traveled per day region-wide, with almost two-thirds of that reduction in northern New Jersey alone. Getting all of those trucks off the road would make a serious dent in the congestion problem.
But reduced congestion isn’t the only potential benefit of this project. These large commercial vehicles are also major contributors to road and bridge deterioration and diminished air quality in the Garden State and throughout the region. There’s a significant social cost, too, as truck traffic has implications for safety and quality of life. Consider these additional benefits:
- Decreased wear and tear on our infrastructure, as one 80,000 pound tractor trailer causes the same damage to our roads, highways, and water mains as 9,600 automobiles
- Decreased emissions by as much as 75 percent
- Improved pedestrian and roadway safety, as truck crashes are more likely to result in pedestrian fatalities than crashes involving passenger vehicles
- And increased economic opportunity, as fewer trucks on the region’s highways helps to reduce congestion, improve the flow of goods, and create jobs.
Although a Record of Decision for the Tier I EIS was issued in January of last year, there is no timeline for the Tier II EIS, mostly because no money has been allocated in the proposed Port Authority Capital Plan. As the Port of New York and New Jersey continues to set records year after year for annual cargo volumes, New Jersey’s roads will not be able to absorb the anticipated truck traffic. If President Trump and Senate Democrats are serious about fixing the nation’s infrastructure and growing the economy, investing in freight rail – a $274 billion industry supporting almost 1.5 million American jobs – would be a good bet. The Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel is a worthy project of national significance and must be a part of any national infrastructure plan.