In his capacity as chairman of the Meadowlands Mayors’ Committee, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell issued a rarely used veto to oppose approvals that would allow the Norfolk Southern rail company to expand Croxton rail yards in Jersey City.
Elwell was backed by the other mayors on the commission except for Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham. Elwell urged the mayors to reject the proposed expansion because, he said, it posed increased traffic and danger to drivers in Secaucus and Jersey City.
The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission had voted to approve the expansion earlier this year, but according to an agreement with various municipalities, the mayors’ committee has a right to veto such a proposal. The committee consists of 14 area mayors.
Norfolk Southern is one of the four remaining freight rail companies in the U.S. They plan to expand the freight train focus in Jersey City near the Secaucus border. The company itself is expanding, having acquired a little more than half of Conrail two years ago.
Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham was the lone mayor supporting the expansion of the rail yard. In an April 30 letter to the mayors’ committee, he wrote, “This letter is being sent to express my support of this rezoning. Approval of the rezoning would benefit the city of Jersey City, and the surrounding areas. The major advantage of an intermodal facility is that it allows goods to be moved long distances by rail and thereby reduces long-haul truck traffic and its attendant roadway congestion. This would help to ease the traffic in the Jersey City area.”
Elwell didn’t think it would help Secaucus, however.
“This has the potential to put hundreds of heavy trucks and container cars on already congested local streets,” said Elwell. “Without substantial traffic improvements, I can’t support this plan.”
Elwell said the company will have to increase traffic and safety measures before he can change his mind.
Elwell said County Avenue, Paterson Plank Road and even the center of Secaucus face a continuous stream of trucks from the existing Croxton Yards and the U.S. Postal facility on County Road. “Those trucks congest traffic, pollute the air and create safety problems now,” Elwell said.
“County Road, Paterson Plank Road and Meadowlands Parkway already have more than their capacity for heavy truck traffic,” said Fred Constantino, a Secaucus 3rd Ward councilman. “The addition of traffic from the proposed Turnpike interchange and the Norfolk Southern railroad [extension] would worsen air and noise pollution and further congest our streets.”
Elwell said substantial improvements to the rail crossing and other traffic changes must be made before he can support any expansion of the rail company’s operation. Elwell, who owns and operates a trucking company, said his only concern is for the residents’ safety.
“Obviously, I’m not knee-jerk opposed to trucking operations, but they must be done in a safe manner that takes into account the need to the community,” Elwell said. “Until there is a commitment to the needed safety improvements, I can’t support this proposal.”
The area needs a bridge
According to the resolution from the Hackensack Meadowlands Municipal Committee, which opposes the rezoning of lands where the rail yard is located, “these areas need special protection from air and water pollution and special arrangements for the provision of facilities for the disposal of solid waste; …the ecological factors constituting the environment of the meadows and the need to preserve the delicate balance of nature must be recognized to avoid any artificially imposed development that would adversely affect not only this area but the entire state.”
The Mayors Committee has asked that the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission submit, prior to the final action, codes and standards formulated by the commission, the district master plan, and any amendments to its development and redevelopment plans and improvement plans.
Trains from the Croxton Yards throughout the eastern half of the United States, from Canada to Florida and from the Eastern Seaboard to the Mississippi River.
Over the last two years, ongoing improvements to Croxton have snarled traffic moving in and out of southern end of Secaucus. Last year, Hudson County instituted a study of the area and concluded that bridges were needed over rail crossings in order to accommodate traffic in and out of the Southern section of Secaucus.
In 1999, the Secaucus Planning Board concluded that the area needs new long-term solutions for traffic congestion plaguing that part of town. Elwell said the Secaucus Police Department has been videotaping traffic problems in the area over a period of time to show the backup caused by the trains.
Elwell said the company is seeking to build a bridge over County Avenue in order to help transport rail cars to a piece of vacant land north of the yard, but seems unwilling to help provide for a bridge along New County Road. State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco was instrumental in getting money to fund similar bridges over rail intersections near Secaucus Road and Tonnele Avenue as well as Paterson Plank Road near Route 1 & 9 to overcome the massive traffic backups that occurred there. Trains containing hundreds of boxcars have often stranded rush hour commuters for in excess of an hour in those places.
Currently, traffic has backed up along County Avenue while waiting for trains to finish their maneuvers in and out of the Croxton Yards.
Elwell met with rail officials in early May to try to hammer out an agreement, but he said he would not budge on the issue of a bridge.
“They can promise me the world, but until they provide a bridge for County Road, I won’t lift that veto,” Elwell said.