New York City

How to take New York City back to its maritime roots in 2018

The Freight NYC plan as outlined by the EDC it is not only possible, it’s going to do a lot of good for the city’s traffic and pollution, NYCEDC President and CEO James Patchett says.

A cargo ship passing through New York City's harbor

A cargo ship passing through New York City's harbor Shutterstock

Under James Patchett’s leadership, the New York City Economic Development Corp. is hoping to revive New York City’s maritime shipping and distribution system as part Freight NYC – a $100 million plan announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this summer intended to help ease congestion and pollution caused by the city’s aging freight infrastructure. The ultimate goal is to create 5,000 jobs for New Yorkers and “a more sustainable and resilient supply chain network.”

In a City & State op-ed written by Jonathan English, “Why returning NYC’s freight transportation to the waterways won’t work,” English argued that the plan fails to consider New York City’s current infrastructure. The plan’s three key strategies call for the investment in multimodal infrastructure, the modernization and development of new freight distribution hubs, and the use of emission-free trucks.

In an interview with City & State, Patchett rebuts the notion that Freight NYC wasn’t created with today’s New York City in mind, and argues that antiquated highways and truck traffic are reason enough to return to our maritime ways.

What do you say to those who argue that there’s no room for waterfront warehouse distribution facilities in New York City, where residential and commercial developments are now prioritized?

New York City is far larger than our core business districts. From Hunts Point to Sunset Park, there are plenty of areas that both have the space capacity and the need for distribution facilities to keep their competitive advantage. We are also exploring creating multistory or vertical distribution centers, for which there is growing demand regionally, to maximize the use of available land. We don’t see these investments as experimental. They are absolutely critical to the city’s economic health.

The EDC released RFPs for two separate distribution facilities in July. Have you narrowed down the list of contenders for either of those?

We have received incredible interest in both RFPs – one of which was for a private partner to build an urban distribution center at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, and the other was to develop an air cargo and distribution facility on an approximately four-acre site near JFK Airport. Both of these are still open. Once all submission deadlines close, submissions will be reviewed and we will move forward in selecting the best fit for each site. We look forward to making our selection announcements in the coming months.

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Freight NYC has four key components: increasing maritime capacity, expanding rail freight, developing freight hubs and utilizing clean trucks that will help reduce pollution – all while creating nearly 5,000 jobs in the process. We are well on our way to accomplishing all four of these objectives. Some facilities, such as the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, will be functioning at its new, full capacity as soon as 2020. And while we have moved quickly on Freight NYC, it is still our top priority to keep local communities informed of our updates. This is especially important with two released RFPs and site feasibility studies underway for other projects, including rail transload facilities in Brooklyn and Queens and the South Bronx marine highway barge landing.

This program would require the coordination of multiple agencies. What are some of the challenges the EDC faces in working with multiple agencies – small and large – in order to ensure that no one party is falling behind?

As the city’s Economic Development Corp,, we have a long, proud history of working with other city agencies. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to think of one of our projects that didn’t involve the coordination of multiple agencies, or the state and federal governments. For example, through Freight NYC we are working with NYC DOT to help strengthen the NYC Smart Truck Management Plan. Some of these other projects include launching NYC Ferry, the new citywide ferry system, developing New York Works, the initiative to create 100,000 good-paying jobs, and planning Sunnyside Yard, the Queens railyard with incredible growth potential. In short, we have no concerns about this.

Are there any challenges that present enough of a risk to threaten your 2027 deadline or put you over the $100 million budget?

(The) EDC intends to use both budgeted funds and public-private partnerships to accomplish all of our goals, and we don’t foresee any obstacles at this time. This plan was carefully constructed to meet all of our objectives on an aggressive timeline.

Is there hope for the Cross Harbor Freight Program plan to build a tunnel connecting New Jersey and Brooklyn?

There is! Although this endeavor is being spearheaded by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, we absolutely support it.

How does the Freight NYC program compare to the Cross Harbor Freight Program, both in terms of execution and results?

They are great complements of each other, working in tandem to ensure our freight distribution system meets 21st-century demands. And Freight NYC focuses on rail improvements, maritime barging, urban distribution hubs and transload facilities, and clean trucking. It's important to note that no mayoral administration in recent memory has planned so comprehensively for the city’s long-term supply chain needs.

Are there any other points that you’d like to make in response to the op-ed published in City & State, “Why returning NYC’s freight transportation to the waterways won’t work”?

I think that the op-ed mischaracterizes our outlined goals. Freight NYC is designed to manage the expected growth of future freight volumes in environmentally sustainable ways, while tackling both highway congestion and air pollution. While Freight NYC proposes a variety of solutions, there is no alternative that does not consider utilizing our waterways as a true and meaningful alternative to our already congested roadway network. At a time when our antiquated highways are increasingly congested with truck traffic, now is the time to return to our roots as a port city and take advantage of our “marine highways.”

With e-commerce booming, projected population growth and food needs growing, investments in freight are needed today. The immediate and targeted investments outlined in Freight NYC will make a difference in relieving congestion and optimizing efficiency in the short term. And we are standing at the ready to work with our partners at the local, state, and federal levels to bring our freight distribution system into the 21st century.