After years of planning and delays, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system should soon start living up to its name and be extended into several Bergen county towns, an expansion that will take a huge step forward when the state’s Transportation Trust Fund is replenished.
The 15-year-old Hudson-Bergen Light Rail currently consists of 24 stations and spans 21 miles, which winds its way through Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, Union City and North Bergen. When the project was originally conceived decades ago, planners intended to continue service to various towns in southern Bergen county, hence the name of the train system.
That extension, known officially as the Northern Branch Corridor Project, got a big boost earlier this month thanks to the end of some Trenton gridlock. New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund ran out of money in July and politicos were going back and forth as to how best to replenish it. Late last month, a deal was announced that would raise the gas tax 23 cents per gallon and pump about $2 billion into the fund.
This week, the State Assembly approved the bill and Governor Christie is expected to sign it very soon. As part of the deal, an informal agreement has been reached to set aside funding for the Light Rail’s northern expansion, which will create seven new stations and potentially add about 20,000 new riders to the service.
The extension would use an already existing rail right-of-way owned by CSX Transportation and create stations at 91st Street in North Bergen, Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Leonia, Englewood Route 4, Englewood Town Center, and Englewood Hospital. The project was also going to be extended into Tenafly, but local officials had concerns about properties that would need to be torn down to make way for the service and scrapped the idea.
Completing the Northern Branch Corridor of the HBLR would give riders a 33-minute ride from Englewood Hospital’s station to Hoboken Terminal, helping take cars off the road in the process. Anybody who has ever driven through Bergen county on Route 4 or Route 17 during rush hour understands the major difference that could make, and the extension will provide rail service to four different towns that currently don’t have it.
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise said the cost for the light rail extension is estimated at about $225 million and the project is eligible for matching Federal funds. There is still a lot of work left to do before construction begins on the project and there isn’t currently any timeline, but in the most densely populated area of the country, more mass transit options could certainly help alleviate congestion issues.