To extend the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail one quarter mile further could make a new “gold coast” out of the west side of Jersey City, according to County Executive Tom DeGise, who spoke at the Feb. 23 meeting of the Hudson County Alliance for Action.
But Trenton politics has caused a roadblock preventing NJ Transit, which operates the light rail system, from getting the money.
The extension of the light rail line would proceed from its current terminus at West Side Avenue in Jersey City.
“That last little stretch is going to make a difference between developing there or not,” DeGise said.
He said the extension from West Side Avenue to Route 440 near the Hackensack River would increase the potential for development of a 96-acre site called “Bayfront.”
Without light rail service, the site will generate about 4,000 units. With the extension, he said, the site will create about 8,200 units.
“Wherever the light rail has gone, development has followed.” – Tom DeGise
Cushman & Wakefield, the company that would market the project, said the fully zoned and master planned site on the eastern shore of the Hackensack River is assembled and ready for transit-oriented, mixed-use redevelopment.
Bayfront will revitalize the Route 440 corridor
Known as Bayfront and located in Jersey City’s 1,344-acre Bayside Development Zone, the property will incorporate new housing, office, and retail uses, with public waterfront access and more than 20 acres of open space.
Bayfront, which was supported unanimously by the City Council in 2008, builds on the work of Jersey City community members, business owners, academics, residents, and elected officials to create an integrated mixed-use vision for Jersey City’s West Side.
“The Bayfront redevelopment plan sets in motion the next chapter of a key section of Jersey City’s West Side,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop. “This project transforms former industrial, commercial, and municipal sites into a new mixed-use urban neighborhood that will be a model of environmentally-conscious design and a vibrant new community.”
The plan focuses on building a community appropriate for the location, while adopting the principles of smart growth, transit orientation, green design, walkability, and sustainability.
Its execution will be market driven, allowing for up to 8,100 residential units, one million square feet of offices, and 600,000 square feet of retail.
The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system stops at West Side Avenue a few blocks from the site. Future plans would connect directly to the Bayfront development and provide direct access to Manhattan via the PATH system. Bayfront also offers easy access to a well-established and expansive mass transit system and roadway network that would connect residents to the rest of the Tri-State area.
When completed, Bayfront will join existing West Side development projects like Droyers Point and Society Hill as well as those currently under development, including New Jersey City University’s West Campus, located directly across Route 440 from Bayfront.
“Transportation and infrastructure are interrelated,” DeGise said. “Wherever the light rail has gone, development has followed. The 96 acres are now clean land from the chromium days.”
He said Jersey City would no longer be a tale of two cities if projects like this are allowed to prosper.
Why the money isn’t there yet
DeGise said the cost for the light rail extension is estimated at about $225 million. The money is available. The federal government funds the Federal New Starts program at about $2 billion.
But New Jersey must apply for the program with matching dollars from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which has yet to be fully-funded.
The money for the fund would have to come either from the state budget or an increase in gasoline taxes. Gasoline prices in New Jersey are currently the lowest of any state except for Alaska. And Gov. Christopher Christie refuses to raise gasoline taxes to put the money in the fund, or budget tax dollars for that purpose either.
If this project is accomplished, property values on the west side of Jersey City could double.
First conceived more than 30 years ago, with construction started about 15 years ago, the light rail – funded by federal money – stopped short of achieving its goal to become a two-county system extending to Bergen County. But the line runs from Bayonne through Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, North Bergen, and Union City.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.