Elected Officials: Expand the Light Rail to Bergen Already

March 13, 2015 | Politics, Transportation

By David Cruz

Elected officials from a dozen municipalities, state lawmakers, two county executives and the state’s two U.S. senators. All here to call for an expansion to Bergen of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system, a project which they say is critical to growth throughout the region.

“It’s time for us to stop talking about these projects and start putting New Jersey to work building them,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.

Menendez says New Jersey needs to get in the game when it comes to seeking federal funds for a transit project like this. He says while he and Sen. Cory Booker look for funding from the New Starts federal transit grant program, the state will need to pony up some, too. But Congressman Bill Pascrell says not all of New Jersey’s elected officials are on board with the need for public funding for transit system upgrades and expansions.

“We had a vote last week in the House of Representatives about mass transit and not everybody voted for it in the New Jersey delegation,” he said. “How the hell does that happen?”

NJ Transit, which operates the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system, has plans for an expansion of the system in Jersey City and north to Englewood, an expansion which Mayor Frank Huttle says is critical to regional economic development.

“One point five million people that these towns connect to the largest city in the country,” said Huttle. “It’s an economic region. This is not about spending dollars, this is about making capital investment.”

In its 15 years of operation, the light rail system has proven to be a catalyst for economic development along Jersey City and Hoboken, where office towers and retail and restaurants have flourished. Booker says investment in the system’s expansion will mean real jobs for working people still waiting for opportunities.

“There are so many good people that we could be putting to work right now,” said Booker. “Investments in infrastructure that we need produces jobs tomorrow from economic growth and produces immediate work for people in our country in an economy that is still struggling too much.”

The federal government can help, if it ever comes to terms with how to replenish its transportation funding sources. New Jersey, likewise. But to get projects off the drawing board and into the ground, it will take a meeting of the minds between two parties that look at the same problems from divergent tracks.