Workers scramble over American Dream Meadowlands’ gleaming white facade, as the $5 billion, 3 million-square-foot luxury mall and entertainment center nears its much-anticipated Oct. 25 opening date — 16 years after the project first debuted as Xanadu. It’s expected to draw 40 to 50 million visitors a year, maybe 150,000 a day, which means thousands of cars funneled onto already-clogged arteries, especially Route 3 through Secaucus.
“If you go on Route 3 now, traffic is a dead stop at four o’clock. Dead stop. Where are you going to put the 40 million people who are going to come here every year? I don’t know how you’re going to do it,” said Secaucus Mayor Mike Gonnelli.
“The people in Bergen County I think are going to be living through traffic Armageddons on a regular basis,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
“That’s why we also have to look to public transportation, but the same question arises there. Will NJ Transit be able to handle the extra capacity?” asked Janna Chernetz, New Jersey policy director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Given the state of our transportation infrastructure, I have my doubts —especially given the financial strain that NJ Transit’s under right now.”
NJ Transit runs a single-rail spur to a small station at the Meadowlands that struggles to handle overflow crowds, like the Wrestlemania event that ended later than anticipated and swamped the trains. American Dream developer Triple Five has reportedly requested running trains every 20 minutes.
Public transport puzzle
“There’s still some debate as to how, what kind of frequency the train line will run, if it can run back and forth from Secaucus transfer into the sports complex, if there’ll be bus lines — until we can determine the ridership quantities that would warrant a train from Secaucus transfer in,” said Jim Kirkos, president of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce.
NJ Transit is also considering buses from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York.
“NJT continues to collaborate with American Dream and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan for the complex,” agency spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said. “We are doing an industry review to determine what is available to NJT to improve the service levels at the Meadowlands.”
Gov. Phil Murphy has mentioned building a maglev train, but that could cost an estimated $1 billion. The state has already sunk more than a billion in tax credits, transportation improvements and subsidies into the project. Meanwhile, rail riders worry American Dream’s demands for service will slam a system already plagued by chronic staff shortages, service cuts and canceled trains.
“I want to see every document that comes out concerning these alleged stakeholders and the owners of this complex, that we can review it, and make sure that we as riders who pay fares and we as taxpayers are not being ripped off,” said David Peter Alan, co-founder and chair of the Lackawanna Coalition.
Triple Five has been unavailable for interviews despite multiple requests.
Looking for ‘accountability and transparency’
“I think in the interest of public accountability and transparency that the Murphy administration step in and be responsible, not only to the taxpayers, but to the people who live around here and make sure this project is not going to cause problems,” said Chernetz.
Secaucus struck an agreement with Triple Five to pay $100,000 a year for two years, and $200,000 a year afterward in lieu of taxes. That was before Gonnelli took office. He says he can’t hire a single cop for $100,000.
“And I’ll be speaking to the Governor’s Office complaining, and I’m not going to call American Dream anymore because that’s what they told me, they’re not responsible. So shame on them,” said Gonnelli.
As opening day approaches, the folks at Triple Five will be dealing with last-minute issues. One of them might be a lawsuit filed by the mayor of Secaucus.