OpEd in The Record – Why we need to act on Hudson-Bergen light rail now
I have pasted an Opinion Editorial piece written by myself and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop expressing our opinion that the time to bring Passenger Service back to the Northern Branch of the Hudson/Bergen Light Rail is now.
As you may know, the restoration of Passenger Rail Service has been discussed for over a decade. Englewood has been actively working on not only making this project shovel ready but also the best it can be. That is why Mayor Fulop and I founded the Mayors’ Hudson/Bergen Light Rail Commission which will be a single focused entity that will unify each of the independent municipalities of the line together and speak with one voice. It will coordinate ground-up planning and consultation between the local government entities within each municipality, both counties and amongst stakeholders while providing a direct conduit to NJ Transit, the lead agency in the project.
I encourage you to read the piece and also to stay tuned for more developments.
Mayor Frank Huttle
Opinion: Why we need to act on Hudson-Bergen light rail now
MARCH 24, 2014, 4:35 PM
BY STEVEN FULOP AND FRANK HUTTLE III
Steven Fulop is mayor of Jersey City and Frank Huttle III is mayor of Englewood. Both are Democrats.
ANYONE who lives in northern New Jersey knows that commuting – by car, bus or rail — is a universally unpleasant topic. While it is central to our daily lives, the everyday traffic jams and crowded trains frequently leave us in the breakdown lane.
This shouldn’t be the case, especially when considering the high cost of living in Bergen and Hudson counties.
We need a transportation system that meets the needs of our communities while at the same time improving our regional economy. Moving forward with plans for the expansion of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line into Bergen County should be an immediate priority for Governor Christie and the State legislature.
NJ Transit began operating the first segment of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail — currently only in Hudson County — in Jersey City in 2000 and expanded the system to 21 miles over the next 11 years serving approximately 44,000 weekday passengers. But it has yet to become what planners originally envisioned, which is a regional transportation network connecting two of the most densely populated counties in New Jersey – Bergen and Hudson – to one another and to New York City.
The long-talked about light rail expansion would ease traffic congestion for commuters, create thousands of jobs and spur added economic development in both counties. Since there is no rail option in eastern Bergen, new investment in transportation should be in the form of public transit, which is why the expansion of the Hudson-Bergen line makes so much sense.
Studies show that federal investment in transit will create jobs and boost the economy. A 2009 study by the American Public Transportation Association found that for each billion spent on public transit, as many as 41,000 jobs are created. This same investment in public transit would also generate as much as $3.8 billion annually in business sales further enhancing the economy.
This expansion will help many Bergen residents. In fact, unique to our area, commuters of all income levels use mass transit. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in most major American cities there is a huge gap between the median income of residents and ridership on public transit. Not so in New York City and northern New Jersey, where the median income essentially matches the average income of the mass transit rider.
More efficient workers
In addition, by improving our transportation network, less time is spent commuting, making workers more efficient. Saving just 15 minutes on employees’ commutes equates to a 12 percent increase in productivity in their 40 hour work weeks.
To help advance this expansion, we have formed a mayors’ commission representing all 12 municipalities with present and future Hudson-Bergen Light Rail service to provide direct dialogue to NJ Transit, the lead agency in the project. We fully intend to show the value in beginning to build the line into Bergen County.
Funded with a combination of state and federal dollars, the final cost of the Hudson portion of the project was approximately $2.2 billion and was one of the largest public works projects ever in New Jersey. It would only cost half of that amount – approximately $900 million – to expand the line into Bergen County, increase the volume of riders and improve our transportation network.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-Paterson, recently testified before the State Senate Transportation Committee’s hearing on the extension of the line, and advocated for the use of the federal New Starts program, which can provide up to a 50:50 match with state funding. Pascrell noted “it is critical that planning be expedited — every day we wait is another day for other projects across the nation to jump ahead of New Jersey in the federal queue.”
Role for private sector
We agree. We also believe there is a role for the private sector to play in supporting the line. In Jersey City, for instance, developers are paying the nearly $12 million cost of a new station because of the importance the new stop means to their projects. In Englewood, the city has partnered with NJ Transit and Englewood Hospital to build an End of the Line parking lot on the hospital’s land. Partnerships with the private sector should be pursued at other locations in Bergen County where the rail line will enhance the value of adjacent properties, spurring new development.
It’s time to stop hoping and start acting to make the Bergen part of the Hudson-Bergen line a reality. There are federal and private dollars to pay for a substantial portion of the project. Governor Christie needs to show his support and call for this line as well.