With its Oct. 25 opening date approaching fast, American Dream Meadowlands still has no posted public transportation plan for moving an estimated 100,000 daily visitors and 16,000 employees through a venue that’s already infamous for local traffic logjams and unreliable trains.
“I see chaos on the roads. I see chaos in places like the Port Authority Bus Terminal, maybe Secaucus Junction. None of these places were designed for a major venue like American Dream,” said transit consultant Mike Weinman.
Weinman and transit advocates say they’ve reached out to both NJ Transit and Triple Five, the developers of American Dream, to discuss the megamall’s so-called master agreement for transportation, but claim they’ve been rebuffed.
“We don’t know what their plan is to get people moving around. So it’s almost like they’re circling the wagons and, you know, they’re telling people not to worry, it’ll be ready. But we’re three months out and what’s the plan? Don’t see it,” said Len Resto, president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers.
“We see it to be very secretive. We see it to be involving perhaps politics, I can’t say to that,” said Weinman. “The common theme is, NJ Transit will take care of everything.”
In 2012, NJ Transit executive James Weinstein sent a letter to Triple Five referencing “… multimodal services that NJ Transit is prepared to introduce with the opening of American Dream. I thank you and your staff for your participation in the effort that enabled NJ Transit to develop a comprehensive transportation plan.”
But Friday Weinstein told NJTV News, “That was not NJ Transit. It was largely negotiated by the governor’s [Chris Christie’s] office. We were involved for technical support on it. And it wasn’t really resolved. […] The opening wasn’t imminent.”
But, it’s imminent now, allegedly.
Relying on bus service
“We’ll focus on bus service. You know we’ve increased both drivers and buses, so we’re able to accommodate them there. And we’re working with them on a comprehensive master plan. There’s also private bus carriers, charter buses that they’re working with,” NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett said.
There are no specifics, but NJ Transit’s 2012 service proposal for American Dream includes enhanced service on three local bus routes from Hackensack, Union City, and Paterson and mentions express bus service from the Port Authority. It also says NJ Transit will initiate daily train service from American Dream to the Lautenberg train station in Secaucus “from approximately 9 a.m. daily and continuing every hour through the close of business at American Dream.” It commits NJ Transit to spending $5.7 million, but that’s in 2013 dollars. NJ Transit just budgeted $8 million for American Dream.
“$8 million? That’s $8 million that NJ Transit does not have to spend. The developer needs to pony up the money. There needs to be a developer contribution to support a substantial project like this, especially the demands that it’s placing on our public transportation system. I think Gov. Murphy needs to go back to the developer and there needs to be an agreement that there is going to be some sort of funding,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign New Jersey policy director Janna Chernetz.
American Dream had no comment. The governor remains committed to both rescuing NJ Transit, which is just barely starting to recover from years on a starvation budget, plus public funding for the American Dream complex. Murphy concedes the transportation dilemma.
Governor: Big strain on Bergen and Hudson counties
“And that will put a big strain in the Bergen County and Hudson systems and roads at a minimum. And so I think we should be ‘and/both.’ I don’t think it should be one or the other,” said Murphy.
NJ Transit has no extra money for regular train service to American Dream this year. Weinman says American Dream is gearing up.
“An RFP, request for proposal, has been put out to the bus industry to run contract services for employees. However they don’t know where the employees will be coming from, so that’s a far-fetched operation,” said Weinman.
“I think this project should be an open book. We should be taking a look at it again with the eyes of 2019 moving forward, and not living in the past in 2011 when I don’t think the project was well thought out,” said Chernetz.
American Dream has scheduled a hiring fair for Wednesday and Thursday and is looking to fill 1,200 job slots. It’s the first in some 16,000 staffers that will have to find their way to work one way or another.