The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system had an important passenger on Tuesday – Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar, the chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Next year, Congress will be voting on a new transportation funding reauthorization bill, and we had to show [Oberstar] our funding needs so he’ll know why I’ll be asking for money,” Rep. Albio Sires told the Reporter Tuesday.
Oberstar took an all-day tour of Hudson County accompanied by Sires (D-13th Dist., NJ) and other county officials. The tour started in Bayonne and ended in North Bergen.
There was a break in the tour for a noon press conference at Exchange Place in Jersey City. There was also a working lunch (closed to the press) hosted by Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, in which officials presented various transportation-related projects and their impact upon the county.
At the press conference, Oberstar said his observations of Hudson County’s transportation infrastructure were “positive” and that he was particularly impressed with the 16-mile NJ Transit light rail system.
The system presently runs from 22nd Street in Bayonne to 48th Street in North Bergen, and there are plans for the line to ultimately terminate in Ridgewood in Bergen County.
Projects at hand
But Hudson County will be demanding more federal money for fix-ups and new transportation routes in the coming years. Here are some of the projects on officials’ minds:
* Extending the light rail to the Meadowlands and to the Xanadu recreation complex, and extending the westward line in Jersey City from the current stop on West Side and Claremont avenues to Route 440.
* Construction on several major roadways and bridges including repairs of the Pulaski Skyway that spans from Jersey City; replacement of the St. Paul’s Avenue Viaduct in Jersey City, and rehabilitation of the Route 3 Hackensack River bridge between Secaucus and East Rutherford.
* Construction of the $7 billion ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) project, which extends from Frank R. Lautenberg/Secaucus Junction station in Secaucus to Sixth Avenue/Broadway and West 34th Street in Manhattan. The project would include the construction of a new track connection between the Main/Bergen/Pascack Valley Lines and the Northeast Corridor (NEC) at Secaucus Junction, a new rail yard in Kearny, and two new tunnels under the Palisades and the Hudson River that would connect to a facility under West 34th street with passenger connections to Penn Station and New York City Transit.
* A $1 billion project to lift the Bayonne Bridge, which spans from Bayonne to Staten Island, to allow container ships to sail under the bridge.
NJ Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles, who took part in the tour, said he could not estimate the cost of the possible light rail extensions, except to say that the construction cost for the existing 16 miles was $2.2 billion, which works out to $138 million per mile of rail.
Estimated costs for the repairs to the Pulaski Skyway, according to the NJ Department of Transportation, are upwards of $1 billion.
The replacement of the St. Paul’s Avenue Viaduct in Jersey City will cost $250 million, and the rehabilitation of the Route 3 Hackensack River Bridge will cost $40 million. Officials making their case
On Tuesday, the light rail tour stopped several times, not only to show Rep. Oberstar the progress made on its development, but to pick up officials along the way.
Later, DeGise said, “I think the point we are trying to make to [Oberstar] is that we have the proper foundation and infrastructure. We can continue to build out the county and help grow the economy of the state.”
Hudson County is the sixth-most densely populated county in the United States, right behind four of New York City’s boroughs and San Francisco County in California.
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While the 16 miles of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system span from Bayonne to 48 th St. in North Bergen, Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Guttenberg Councilman Gerald Drasheff both believe that there is a need for transit to continue further to Secaucus and Bergen County.
“We’ve been working on the Light Rail system now since 1987 and now it reaches North Bergen,” said Sacco.
Sacco hopes that Light Rail will continue on to Xanadu in Secaucus. He said it would benefit the area, allowing people to commute and search for employment from and to the North Bergen area and reduce traffic on Route 1 and 9 and Route 3.
Originally there was an additional projected Light Rail stop in North Bergen planed around 68th Street in North Bergen, said Sacco. While the Light Rail has been expanding in other areas, he said that there was still a possibility of making that a reality.
He said that there was a possibility that diesel mobilized units for transit could be used on the tracks that are already in place, saving the cost of installing new tracks for the Light Rail system. He said that this solution could bring rail service to Bergen County in a shorter period of time, rather than laying out a new line.
“Again you have this wonderful Light Rail System, but if you live on the top of the ‘hill’ it may not even exist,” said Drasheff.
Drasheff said that trolleys running from the Palisades Cliffs to the waterfront on River Road and busses that “snake” through the city from East to West are some of the solutions that could help elevate traffic in North Hudson. He said that that people should not have to walk more than three or four blocks for public transportation, but that as of right now that’s only true along main thoroughfares.
Looking into congestion
Hudson County Planning Director Stephen Marks said that the county received $320,000 in grant money last year from the North Jersey Transit Plan Authority in order to make plan to reduce traffic congestion along River Road in North Bergen, Guttenberg, Weehawken, Edgewater and Fort Lee, all of the towns that touch the waterfront up to the George Washington Bridge.
Hudson County is working in conjunction with Bergen County to try and find solutions to public transit, smart growth, congestion and safe pedestrian traffic.
Marks said that they hired Parsons Brinkerhoff with the funds and have until June 30 of 2009 to complete their work. Funds may not be used in actual construction, but could be pout toward grant applications from the New Jersey Department of Transportation and the Port Authority.
He said that they want to “think globally, act locally” and develop more ways of getting people “out of their cars.” Marks said this would help lessen traffic and make living along the Hudson River more livable.
Drasheff, who attended the first meeting of the different municipalities at the Galaxy Apartments, said that the roads were never meant for the congestion that now exists.
Public meetings will be scheduled in spring of 2009 and there will be a website up soon allowing the public to voice their opinions.
“[We want] to facilitate mass transit and as a result you’re going to reduce air pollution, improve air quality [and] reduce green house gas emissions,” said Marks. – Tricia Tirella. Comments can be sent to TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.