Expanding Light Rail in Hudson a Great Idea in Search of Consensus, and Funding

By David Cruz

By almost any measure the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail transit system has been a ringing success, spurring economic development along its route — from restaurants and cafes to condos and office towers. So, expanding it would seem to be a good idea, especially in a region of the state that is booming.

“Since its opening 15 years ago, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail has been a national model for what a transit project can be,” Senator Bob Menendez said today, “and it’s that national model that we were exhibiting to the regional administrator of the federal Transit Administration as well as New Jersey Transit’s Executive Director who knows the system very well.”

Menendez and a group of Hudson County Mayors, including Richard Turner of Weehawken and Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, toured a portion of the system to show federal officials just what it had wrought, and to advocate for its expansion, specifically here, at the West Side Avenue station. The western terminus of the system has already sparked development here, including new housing, retail and the expansion of the NJCU campus. County Executive Tom DeGise says the station here is just a quarter of a mile from the Hackensack River, once a brownfields site, but now cleaned up and ripe for development.

“I think the important thing to remember, too, is that these are Jersey City guys; this is where the fireman, the cops, the nurses, the teachers live,” added  DeGise. “This isn’t built for the transplanted New Yorker, Brooklynite or someone who finds a good bargain. These are Jersey City people.”

But bridging that quarter mile can prove to be difficult. There are close to $2 billion in federal matching funds that could soon become available to states that have a plan for transit projects and apply for them. Seems easy, except that in New Jersey there is little or no consensus on how to raise money for road and transit projects like light rail expansion, and with the governor preoccupied with a White House run and lawmakers jockeying for positions to replace him, consensus is elusive.

“The reality is that we are losing out on critical dollars, critical to jobs – the construction jobs that will build it, the jobs where people will flow from it, as we’ve seen along the waterfront,” said the Senator. “So we know this works; it’s just a question of getting the monies necessary, so yes, I do think it’s imperative. I do think the time is sooner, rather than later.”

“Everyone gets it,” agreed Zimmer. “Everyone understands that public transportation is the key to success in our region and in our state.”

Expansion of this system is a no brainer says Menendez. But in order for New Jersey to get its share of funding that should become available for it, the governor and the state legislature are going to have to come together to create a plan. But if the past year is any indication, that road is going to be difficult to travel.

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