A citizenís advocacy group, tentatively called Hudson Alliance for Rational Transportation (HART), has been formed to deal with transportation issues in Hudson County, including the proposed Bergen Arches highway project and the widening of State Route 139.
This yearís TEA-21 Federal transportation bill provides the first $26.5 million for a $380 million highway linking Secaucus Transfer (now under construction) and the New Jersey Turnpike to the developing Hudson River waterfront. So far Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler has supported the road project; Mayor Anthony Russo of Hoboken has said that he might like a spur up to his city. The main part of the road would run four lanes through the Bergen Arches, a series of former Erie Railroad tunnels cutting through the ridge of the Palisades in Jersey City. The route is adjacent to the Holland Tunnel access road; it also runs parallel to and a few blocks to the north of the cut that carries the PATH system through town. At one time Erie trains used the Arches to reach the now gone terminal at the foot of Pavonia Avenue. In 1957, three years prior to the merger of the Erie with the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western, trains were shifted into Hoboken Terminal.
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP), and HART have questioned the wisdom of adding more highway capacity in this area. NJ-ARP, for example, points out that the Bergen Arches may be needed for increased rail freight traffic, and that light rail hasnít even been considered yet. Jersey City describes the right of way as ďabandonedĒ but it is not clear that the line has actually gone through the formal abandonment procedures of the federal Surface Transportation Board. Actually CSX and Norfolk Southern, the new owners of Conrail and the Bergen Arches, seem to be interested in preserving freight access through the area. One track on the route is, in fact, still active for Conrail freight service. HART is concerned that additional auto traffic to the waterfront will worsen the serious air pollution problems of Jersey City. The group also points out that there is the possibility of historic landmarking for sections of the corridor, including the Pulaski Skyway, that were built in the 1930s. So far proponents of new highway capacity havenít addressed any of these issues.
Light rail connecting the Secaucus Transfer directly to Newport (Jersey City) and using the Hudson-Bergen LRT to reach the Exchange Place area seems to be worth further study. Passengers transferring from the Northeast Corridor could reach the waterfront without having to make an additional transfer in Hoboken. If through-running trains to Long Island Railroad and Metro-North territory are developed, Secaucus Transfer will be an increasingly important hub for the region. The light rail route would also provide an alternative to the PATH line running east from Newark and take some of the load off that line. An extension to the Secaucus outlet centers and even the Sports Complex could be examined. This new light rail line could use the Bergen Arches, but it also could run through the PATH cut and directly serve Journal Square, Hudson Countyís transit hub. Two Conrail freight tracks passing through Journal Square may be available for other uses in the future.
At the east end of the Arches, the old Erie right of way still exists along the north side of 10th Street, although part of it is used for an access road to Newport (Jersey City). If the Journal Square alternative is used, light rail could run east on a series of massive ex-Pennsylvania Railroad embankments along the south side of Jersey Cityís 6th Street. These embankments reach to Luis Marin Boulevard, across the street from the Newport Mall.
Whatever transit plans emerge, it is a certainty that a new expressway would bring more cars into the already limited street space and parking facilities of Hoboken and Jersey City. More auto-oriented development in those cities doesnít make sense. The Hudson-Bergen light rail line now under construction is supposed to encourage transit-friendly development, and its outlying parking lots are designed to intercept motorists who would otherwise drive into the densest areas of the county. Building more highway lanes undercuts the purpose of the light rail system. It was mentioned at HARTís September 10 meeting that a Bergen Arches highway cannot be segregated for Hudson County-bound motorists; drivers to New York will also use it as needed. It is pointless to add more lanes that reach the Holland Tunnel, which is at capacity during rush hours. One would assume, and hope, that the tunnel will forever remain at its present size. Out in Secaucus, additional rail service could be used to encourage transit-based development.
With the Hudson-Bergen LRT system under construction, and the Bergen Arches expressway in the proposal stage, Hudson County is becoming a key area in determining the future of transportation policy in the New York area. Decades ago the Erie and Pennsylvania Railroads did the hard work of building a rail infrastructure in the county. Now the question is how to use this resource in the best possible way. The Committee for Better Transit suggests additional light rail service as one of the options available. Those interested in HARTís activities should contact Steve Lanset (P.O. Box 347, Hoboken, NJ 07030; phone 201 860-9870; e-mail HARTwheels@aol.com).
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Complicating the Hudson County transportation picture is speculation about a new Yankee Stadium (or whatever it will be called if a corporate sponsor pays to name it) to be built near the Secaucus Transfer/Allied Junction complex. The Star-Ledger recently discussed two possible locations for a new ball park. One parcel, proposed by Allied Junction developer William McCann, is on the Secaucus side of Penhorn Creek; McCann says he has an option to buy the property. The other, favored by Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler, is on the Jersey City side of the creek next to County Road. At the moment this land is in private hands.
Transportation has been one of the factors behind the unresolved Yankee Stadium issue. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has used traffic and parking problems in the Bronx as leverage to further his own interests, but he rarely mentions the two rapid transit lines that serve his facility, or the Metro-North line that passes by. Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer recently unveiled a plan for the existing location that includes a new Metro North station. Meanwhile, Mayor Giuliani has disparaged Ferrerís ideas and still seems to be considering a West Side location in Manhattan despite the enormous problems in providing access to such a site. A New Jersey stadium would have its own difficulties. It is hard to predict the impact of stadium crowds on commuter flows through the vital rail and road links around Allied Junction. I suspect that a stadium is going to have adverse effects on the surrounding area no matter where it is located. Yet public officials seem more interested in issues of civic pride then the practical matters important to their communities.