LEONIA – It’s called the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.
That’s a pretty descriptive name, but it’s not wholly accurate.
The rail line has never gone to Bergen County and it’s unknown when and if that will change.
The Federal Transit Administration last month rescinded approval – technically a “notice of intent” – that allowed NJ Transit to prepare an environmental impact statement for the project. The upshot is that extending the rail line to its projected terminus at Englewood Hospital will be delayed at least two more years.
That move by the feds prompted a large gathering Friday of officials on all levels – led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer – to denounce what the federal government just did. The group assembled – appropriately enough – adjacent to railroad tracks. They were for a freight line, but the point was made.
Gottheimer was quite blunt, comparing the action to the federal Transportation Department giving New Jersey the “middle finger.”
Earlier, he suggested that the responsible party, or parties, was probably some bureaucrat.
Or as he said, this was “bureaucracy at its finest.” Yes, he was being sarcastic.
The light rail project began in the mid-1990’s and now runs from Bayonne north to 51st Street and Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen. It needs to go about 40 more blocks to get to Fairview and live up to its name.
The extension is about “economic development and jobs,” the congressman said.
There are many arguments for extending the line.
Gottheimer said many New York City commuters living in Leonia and other parts of southern Bergen take a bus to the Port Authority terminal in midtown. That is seldom a quick ride, causing workers to leave early and get home late.
In contrast, the light rail would take NYC commuters to either a PATH station in Hoboken or a ferry. That would make for a quicker – and if one took a ferry – a more pleasant trip on the high seas (sort of).
Moreover, the light rail in the other direction would serve employees of Englewood Hospital.
In short, the congressman said that light rail is “faster, cheaper, more reliable and better for the environment” than driving or taking a bus.
Gottheimer is a Democrat, as is the federal administration. Whether that will help the state’s case going forward is unknown, but one presumes it can’t hurt.
The congressman said he hopes to have a meeting with Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Transportation Secretary, to discuss the matter. In the meantime, Gottheimer said that he and fellow Reps. Andy Kim and Bonnie Watson-Coleman have written to Buttigieg calling on him to “immediately commit to expediting the environmental impact statement process and put the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail project back on track.”
The first speaker of the day was Judah Zeigler, the town mayor.
As is often the case with public transportation projects, Zeigler had history in mind.
He said that during a previous stint in borough government in the 1990’s, there was talk about light rail. So, on this day, he observed:
“Here we are in 2023, almost 2024, talking about light rail.”