By Briana Vannozzi
With nearly $2 billion on the line, lawmakers were startled to hear there’s still not enough in the budget to build a South Ward PATH station. The stop was included in the original master plan for the project to extend the rail line to Newark Airport. As of yesterday, it’s out.
“This link has been sold as not just Wall Street to Newark Airport, but as an economic engine for a portion of Newark that has no access to mass transit,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
At a legislative hearing held in Trenton Tuesday, Port Authority planning chiefs told lawmakers the extension would be too costly to build in the $32 billion capital budget. It would require relocating McCarter Highway and buying property along the corridor. Instead, the extension will go directly from Newark Penn Station to Newark Liberty International Airport. The South Ward stop would have connected an underdeveloped area at a station slated along Frelinghuysen Avenue and Dayton Street.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka declined to go on camera today, instead issuing a statement to NJTV News about the missed economic opportunity: “Numerous hotels and developer [sic] have expressed interest in building in the transit village and transportation hub that will be created near a new PATH station. The South Ward station will transform the Dayton/Seth Boyden community, creating economic growth, jobs, new housing and an improved quality of life.”
“The way it is designed right now it is nothing more than a link to Wall Street to Newark Airport. Now that might be good for Newark Airport, it might be good for airlines that operate out of Newark Airport and it surely might be good for a lot of hedge fund people who work on Wall Street, but it has no economic advantage the way it’s designed for the city of Newark,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg says her priority remains two other major projects. A new Port Authority Bus Terminal that’s become a source of contention between the two states and the Gateway Tunnel to replace the old tubes. Baraka is urging the agency to work with federal and state governments to find funding or hold off on a vote scheduled for next month.
In a statement, South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James echoed that, saying, “I am appalled that the Port Authority would throw aside this extensive study at the 12th hour. Its impact would have been monumental for our community. To build additional rail lines bypassing the highest populated ward in the city of Newark and disregard the original plan which included a new station is a travesty. We must make every effort to ensure the station is included.”
The Port Authority didn’t return our requests for information today, but told lawmakers at the hearing that a South Ward station could be built at a later time as path ridership increases. As Weinberg points out, the capital plan is a flexible document. It can be amended, added or subtracted as often as the Port Authority sees fit.