Elected leaders in eastern Bergen County on Saturday cheered the news that the long-delayed extension of light rail service into Bergen may finally happen, thanks to the unexpected deal in Trenton to raise the gasoline tax by 23 cents a gallon to replenish the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.
The Record's Christopher Maag reports:
“It is a big deal, and it’s a great step forward,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, said of the plans, which would offer many of her constituents a direct rail ride to the PATH train lines that run to Manhattan.
“I’m very excited,” Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle said.
When complete, the line will allow light rail trains to travel
from Hoboken northbound, past the current terminus at Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen, and to Ridgefield, Palisades Park and Leonia. It will have three stops in Englewood, including at Route 4 and downtown, and terminate at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
The final legislation incorporating the trust fund deal — which softens the blow of the gas tax bump with limited relief in other areas, like the sales and estate taxes — may come up for a vote in the state Legislature as early as Wednesday, said state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge. He was one of the original co-authors of a transportation funding plan introduced in June, aspects of which are included in the current proposal.
The package, however, includes no language specifically dedicating any of the new gas tax revenue to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail extension, Sarlo said, or to a sister project to extend the River Line light rail along the Delaware River in South Jersey.
Instead, Sarlo said, the deal to fund the two light rail systems at opposite ends of the state is an informal one among Christie, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
“The Legislature has the power to appropriate money, and it’s up to the executive branch to decide how that money is spent,” Sarlo said. “There is an understanding between all stakeholders, North and South Jersey and the governor’s office, that when the plan is developed, those two projects will be funded.”
Even if the Legislature passes the funding measure and the governor signs it, construction on the light rail line will not start soon.
During the summer, officials with NJ Transit were working to complete a preliminary study of the project’s environmental effects, as required by federal law. That study was to have been completed in October, said Huttle.
Then the Transportation Trust Fund ran out of money, and Christie issued an executive order stopping most construction and planning projects paid for by the fund, including the light rail effort.
Now it’s unknown when the study will be done, Huttle said.
Whenever it’s finished, NJ Transit must wait 60 days to receive public comment, hold a public hearing, complete a final environmental review, and then create an engineering plan, all before construction can actually start, Huttle said.
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