Port of New York Preëminent in World -- Changes Taking Place -- Port and Canal Interdependent -- Canal Participation at Inception of Port Improvement -- Canal Construction at the Port -- Coöperation between New York and New Jersey an Outgrowth of Harbor Case -- Creation and Work of Bi-State Commission -- Port Authority Created -- Treaty between States Ratified by President -- Work of Port Authority -- Principles Governing Solution of Port Problem -- Outline of Plans -- Need of Haste in Undertaking Work.

The State canals have played no small part in making the port of New York what it is today -- without a rival in America, outranking all ports of the world in volume and value of its commerce. So long has this been the greatest port of the country that it is hard to realize that it did not always enjoy this exalted station. But before the original waterways were built New York ranked second or third place and there can be little doubt that the canal was the chief factor in effecting the change. Indeed it is commonly conceded that the two predominant causes in making this the greatest port on the continent were, first, the topography of the port itself, and second, the canal. Nature's gift was the safe harbor with its 800 miles of shore line, where piers, docks, warehouses and other shipping facilities might be built and where industrial sites might be found. Man's contribution was the canal. Later came the railroads and this trio of propitious causes place the port far in the lead and moreover they have kept it there ever since and also have made the city the mighty metropolis of the western hemisphere.

In the early days of its existence and even until 1870, according to an eminent authority, 1 the Erie canal possessed such a large influence over the port of New York that its success depended primarily upon this waterway. But as the railroads came and grew and as there entered and multiplied other factors in determining this control, the canal dominance dwindled to but a fraction of its former strength. Now, however, the canal has been transformed into an efficient modern avenue of transportation and following in point of time this canal rejuvenation there is taking place a like transformation in the port itself. It cannot be said that it is the influence of the canal alone which is bringing about this change in the port, the present canal influence is by no means powerful enough for that, but these improvements in both canal and port are very closely allied and moreover it is doubtless true that they are due in large measure to common causes. The revival of interest in waterways has been world-wide. For a long time it has been known that in America our transportation systems have been inadequate and year by year have become less and less able to meet our needs. Facilities for commerce in our metropolis have been admittedly so poor that trade of necessity has had to seek rival ports. All this could lead to but one result, a congestion ending often in stagnation. Such are the common causes with have wrought the changes in canal and port -- a revival of public interest and a situation so acute as finally for self-preservation to compel improvements. But there has been a recent and peculiar manifestation of the causes underlying the improvements in canal and port, and this has affected the State in part but the city more especially. The inadequacy of facilities and the increasing acuteness of congestion at its chief port have long been borne by the business interests of the country with such patience as could be mustered, but finally a storm of protest, after years of threatening rumblings, has burst in full fury. New York city at last has begun to realize its peril. As United States Shipping Commissioner Love recently said, in speaking before the Port Authority, New York has lost the cotton trade and also the tobacco trade and is fast losing the grain trade. As another recent speaker 2 has put it, the country is demanding drastic remedies so that it may be freed from the tremendous burdens that have been placed upon its commerce because it has permitted the continuance of conditions which have forced the foreign business of the country largely through, what he terms, the archaic port of New York. A score of years ago the State of New York saw on the horizon the signs of this coming storm and as its contribution to a solution of the problem has constructed a modern canal with numerous well-equipped terminals and a capacious as well as extremely necessary grain elevator in the port of New York. Some five years ago the city of New York made its first effective move toward adequate port improvements. But it is since that time that the storm has burst. We cannot help wondering whether the city, feeling secure in its possession of half of the nation's export and import trade, has waited too long in bestirring itself. But however that may be, it was to relieve the paralyzing congestion and retain its trade that the world's greatest port planned its improvements and now, spurred to greater efforts by the threat of misfortune, is endeavoring to carry its plans into execution. The port of New York has heard the cry of the West for other outlets and this has become a large contributing and impelling incentive for activity.

In addition to a oneness in causes the Barge canal and the port of New York have much else in common. The relationship between them is very close. The success of the port is not entirely dependent on the existence of the canal, although the canal does have an influence and a rather large influence, both because it can contribute a considerable volume of commerce and because it acts as a potent regulator of rates. But on the other hand the success of the canal is largely dependent upon the efficiency of the port. If delays and high costs in delivering or transshipping freight at the port nullify the advantages of water transportation or turn traffic to other channels, the canal suffers.

The Barge canal moreover had a peculiarly intimate connection with the port improvement scheme at the inception of its present effective stage. The development of the port of New York has been a work of many years and its history of course contains numerous incidents, but the present phase, the adoption of a policy which at last seems to hold promise of being fundamentally sound and sufficiently broad to work out the salvation of the port, is of but a few years standing. This phase may be said to have had its beginning in what is known as the New York Harbor Case, a case heard before the Interstate Commerce Commission in January, 1917, in which the States of New York and New Jersey were pitted against each other. In this case the influence of the canal on the port -- how New York State had contributed toward building up the port by constructing, improving and maintaining its canals for a hundred years and what the State was then doing in the huge modern canal improvement -- held a prominent place in the evidence presented. Also State Engineer Williams was an important and valuable witness. Furthermore, one of the lines of evidence on the New York side attempted to show from a study of the statistics of population and of commercial and industrial growth that New York was almost entirely responsible for the development of the whole port, the New Jersey portion included. This study was suggested to New York's chief counsel by the chapter in the History of the New York State Canals on the "Influence of the Canal" and the State Engineer was asked to furnish the men to make the study. The author of the present volume, because of his connection with the former history, was one of the two men assigned to this task.

The success of the Barge canal, as we have said, goes hand in hand with that of the port of New York, and because there is this mutual relationship between the two it is essential to a complete understanding of the canal problem that we know past and present conditions in the port and also the plans for the future.

Even in the canal project itself there was included a comparatively large New York port improvement. Nearly half of the original appropriation for canal terminals was spent on the terminals in New York city and this sum was materially augmented by an amount for a large grain elevator at one of these terminals, a structure vitally necessary for New York's retention of its grain trade and the only elevator not dominated by strict railroad control. Before the Barge canal was constructed New York city's perfunctory and almost useless provision for canal traffic had become a jest and a by-word, but now the well-equipped and commodious terminals not only furnish canal accommodations but have added considerably to the efficiency of the whole port.

The New York Harbor Case has been called by one intimately connected with it a blessing in disguise. It was instituted by New Jersey on the plea that in justice she should have the benefits of the actual lesser rates to the railroad terminals within her borders rather than be charged the same rates as those for Manhattan and Brooklyn, which included lighterage costs in addition to rail charges. In its potentialities for undermining well nigh the whole commercial and industrial foundation on which New York city's greatness rested the case was one of the most important which the metropolis had ever been called upon to contest, and a reading of the current editorials of the city press reveals that the thinking men of the city so regarded it. But we need not now concern ourselves either with the details of the case or the history of port disputes which preceded it. In its decision the Interstate Commerce Commission declined to disturb the existing rate situation, but it counseled coöperation, and coöperation is just what has come out of the case and has made it a blessing in disguise. For years the inadequacy of the port had been apparent, but because the harbor was divided between two states, petty rivalry and jealousy and a short-sighted unwillingness to regard the whole port as the single unit which by nature it was, had crowded out mutually helpful relationships.

The case was a blessing also in being the cause incidentally of a wide educational movement. While it was pending there resulted a large discussion of the problem of port organization. All the trades and civic bodies within the metropolitan district became vitally interested and the cities and commercial organizations along the Hudson were much concerned. The press of both New York and New Jersey gave the problems so much publicity that when the officials of the two States joined interests the people were ready to acquiesce and unite for the common good.

It may be that no adequate solution of the port problem could have been reached sooner. Doubtless it required an awakened New Jersey, a New York city with its transit question well past the initial stage, a New York State with its canal nearing completion, and an aroused spirit of liberality, which would break down barriers and put aside jealousies, before the people of the metropolitan district were willing to make common sacrifice as well as common cause for a common future and could unite whole-heartedly in grappling with a common problem.

The united action was under the guidance of a bi-state commission, known as the New York, New Jersey and Harbor Development Commission, which consisted of three men from New York and three from New Jersey. The best expert talent in the land was employed and an exhaustive study was made of terminal conditions and operations in all its phases throughout the whole metropolitan district, now recognized as the Port of New York. Incidentally it is of some local interest to know that Barge canal engineers were loaned by State Engineer Williams to make the surveys of the proposed outer belt line railway to connect all the railroads entering New York city from the west.

Following this first commission there has been created a new body, given the rather clumsy title, Port of New York Authority, likewise composed of three men from New York and three from New Jersey. One of the New York members is Alfred E. Smith, former Governor of New York. Mr. Smith has recently contributed to a current periodical an article dealing with the port problem and what is being done to solve it, and so lucid and concise is his account that we shall let him tell the remainder of the story.

"After thorough investigation," says Mr. Smith, "the Bi-State Commission made final report to the Legislature of 1921, which recommended the creation of a port district to be defined by law and to include one hundred and five organized municipalities, embracing a population of about 8,000,000 people. At present it is served by twelve trunk-line railways, which bring to or take out of or through the port over 75,000,000 tons of freight per annum. An immense number of foreign and domestic steamships, not less than 8,000, equally bring to or take out of the port over 45,000,000 additional tons of freight per annum. Within the port district there is more manufacturing output than in any similar area in the world, with a variety of products and commodities to be handled unparalleled anywhere else. Four million tons of foodstuffs alone are annually required by the people of the port district.

"The Bi-State Commission recommended a treaty between the two States calling for comprehensive development of the port which would effectuate a compact binding them, and establishing a port district and a Port of New York Authority over it. The Port Authority is composed of three members from New York and three members from New Jersey, and is a body corporate and politic. It is charged with the supervision and carrying out of comprehensive plans after they have received the approval of the Legislatures of both States.

"On August 23, 1921, President Harding approved the action of Congress ratifying the treaty and affixed his signature. There were appropriate ceremonies to mark so important an occasion.

"The Port Authority was directed by statute to study the plan of the Bi-State Commission, and any other plan that might be placed before it for consideration. This it did, working night and day during the summer and fall of 1921, and on January 1 of this year submitted to the Legislatures of both States a comprehensive plan.

"As an approach to the great task of preparing the plan, provision was made for the formation of an Advisory Council made up of representatives of chambers of commerce, boards of trade, and civic societies, of which there are one hundred and three within the port district. The several agencies engaged in transportation, such as the twelve trunk-line railways, the steamship companies, lighterage companies, warehouses and trucking interests, and various specialized industries, were all invited to organize co-operating committees in order that points of contact might be immediately established for the necessary conferences.

"Inasmuch as this whole problem is one that not only affects the business interests as far as the cost of business at the port is concerned, but also vitally affects the household and the cost of living, an Educational Council was organized to inform the public on the subject and to lend its active assistance. In this Council individuals as well as representatives of all organizations within the port found membership.

"After long hours of conference with steamship companies, railway engineers, and terminal operators, all the facts set forth as to cost and method in the Bi-State Commission were substantially admitted and certain fundamental conditions were laid down as tending to provide a proper solution of the problem and to guide the Commission is setting forth the physical plans, and, so far as can be shown to be economically practical, the following definite fundamental principles were adopted:

"That terminal operations within the port district, so far as practicable, should be unified;

"That there should be consolidation of shipments at proper classification points, so as to eliminate duplication of effort, inefficient loading of equipment, and reduction in expenses;

"That there should be the most direct routing of all commodities, so as to avoid centers of congestion, conflicting currents, and long truck hauls;

"That the process of co-ordinating facilities should so far as practicable adapt existing facilities as integral parts of the new system, so as to avoid needless destruction of existing capital investment and reduce so far as possible the requirements for new capital; and endeavor should be made to obtain the consent of the States and local municipalities within the port district for the co-ordination of their present and contemplated port and terminal facilities with the whole plan;

"That freight from all railroads must be brought to all parts of the port wherever practicable without cars breaking bulk, and this necessitates tunnel connection between New Jersey and Long Island, and tunnel or bridge connections between other parts of the port;

"That there should be urged upon the Federal authorities improvement of channels so as to give access for that type of water-borne commerce adapted to the various forms of development which the respective shore-fronts and adjacent lands of the port would best lend themselves to;

"Highways for motor-truck traffic should be laid out so as to permit the most efficient inter-relation between terminals, piers, and industrial establishments not equipped with railroad sidings, and for the distribution of building materials and many other commodities which must be handled by trucks; these highways to connect with existing or projected bridges, tunnels, and ferries;

"Definite methods for prompt relief must be devised that can be applied for the better co-ordination and operation of existing facilities while larger and more comprehensive plans for future development are being carried out. ...

"The inauguration of the Port Plan does not mean that the entire new plan is to be effective at once. It does mean that it will be undertaken and extended as the needs of industry require. ...

"To correct some false impressions, let me therefore say that under no conditions can the property of any municipality be touched for the improvement without its consent. Further, no public money is required to finance the project. The Port Authority is a body corporate and politic and must by the sale of bonds raise the necessary money to carry out its projects, and necessarily these must be self-sustaining in order that the interest and amortization payments on the bonds can be met from the profits of operation.

"The plan, among other things, recognizes the fundamental business principle that as much as possible of existing property and equipment already built and in operation should be used. Accordingly the plan takes full advantage of the great classification and break-up yards already built and in operation on the New Jersey side. The next step is to connect them with the New York side of the port. That is proposed to be done by a tunnel under the bay from the so-called Greenville Yards in New Jersey to a point in South Brooklyn where direct rail connection can be made with the New York Connecting Railroad, already built through Brooklyn, for transfer to the New England lines, with proper spurs along the water-front and to Jamaica Bay to meet the needs of that section. It also provides for proper spurs from the New York Connecting Railway to the Brooklyn water-front and into the Bronx, so that sections of the Bronx not adapted to residential purposes may be hereafter developed for industrial uses, enjoying the benefits of direct rail connection with the twelve great trunk lines of the country entering the Port of New York.

"The island of Manhattan presents the most difficult part of the problem.

"The Borough of Richmond is taken care of by the extension of the inner belt line in New Jersey down and across the Arthur Kill by enlarging the existing bridge and widening the tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

"Aside from its physical aspect, the plan has for its purpose the unification of present terminal facilities. During the war, when the management of the railways was in the hands of the Government and they were used as an agency to win the war, they were compelled by Executive edict to unify their existing terminal facilities in the interest of speed and economy. Had it not been for such unification, it is extremely doubtful that the Port of New York would have been able to stand up under the pressure put upon it. As it was, congestion and delays incident to the old-time methods of doing business very materially added to the terminal costs.

"The argument has been made, and made without understanding of the subject, that there must be competition. That is not so. Competition in railway operation is the one competition that works against the public, and not for them, because it adds to the cost of the operation, and that is exactly what the Inter-State Commerce Commission had in mind a short time ago when it declared for a policy of unifying the railways, so that there would not be more than sixteen or eighteen of them in the whole United States. ...

"There is no disagreement anywhere on the facts set forth about the present condition. It has been recognized by even those who have not been in accord with the creation of the Port Authority or the development of the port by joint action between the States.

"The plan set forth for the development of the port is the result of intensive study on the part of the best engineers and terminal experts that could be gathered together in this country. Advising with them were the experts and engineers of the great trunk lines, the representatives of the great steamship companies, and traffic managers of great industrial plants, and it is entirely deserving of approval by the Legislatures of both States and without delay.

"Delay is dangerous if competition with our canal system and our port by the St. Lawrence Waterway is to be avoided. If the port is to stand in healthy competition with the other ports of the country, and if the people themselves in the great metropolitan district are to reap the full benefits and blessings that should flow to us from the greatest natural harbor in the world -- a gift of Almighty God himself and fashioned with his own hands -- the work should immediately be begun." 3


    1   Professor Emory R. Johnson in testimony in the New York Harbor Case.
    2   Congressman A.P. Nelson, in a speech made in the House of Representatives on December 5, 1921.
    3   The Outlook for March 22, 1922.

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