Xanadu connection sought Divided freeholders vote to hire lobbyist for light rail to Meadowlands
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Feb 13, 2004 | 1538 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Two of the three Hudson County freeholders representing Jersey City argued and then voted against awarding a lobbying contract to an ex-NJ Transit executive to help promote a new link for the Hudson Bergen Light rail.

But Mayor Joseph Doria of Bayonne and Mayor Dennis Elwell of Secaucus, two members of the committee looking into the light rail extension, claim opposition arguments are wrong and that the link should be promoted.

Late last year, County Executive Tom DeGise appointed a committee that included Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner and Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria to investigate a new proposal that would shift the direction of the northernmost destination of the light rail. Originally, the light rail was supposed to end at the Vince Lombardi Service Area of the Turnpike, but Bergen County was seeking extensions that would take the light rail line into the Leonia area.

According to Impreveduto, the new proposal would turn the direction of the light rail west with a stopover at Harmon Meadow Mall in Secaucus before crossing the Route 3 bridge into the parking area of the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford.

Freeholders Bill O'Dea of Jersey City and Maurice Fitzgibbons, of Hoboken and Jersey City respectively, argued against giving a $60,000 contract to Metro Communication Group to lobby NJ Transit in favor of the Meadowlands Link.

Both freeholders claimed that the link would take people out of Hudson County rather than bring them into community. They also said it would most benefit the proposed Xanadu mall and recreation area, which is currently slated to be built in the parking area around the sports arena.

O'Dea said that maybe Xanadu should pay a lobbyist to promote their project.

"This is going to benefit them most and Bergen County most," he argued.

Impreveduto, who is one of the chief critics of Xanadu, nevertheless said during a prior interview that this was a means of getting people to jobs, and would benefit whichever project was in the Meadowlands as well as the sports and recreation facilities there. More importantly, it would provide a light rail link to Secaucus, which does not exist now.

Elwell, however, said that O'Dea's argument is bogus. The rail would not end in the Meadowlands, but would return to Secaucus Transfer Station and eventually link up with Journal Square, using the Bergen Arches.

"This is part of the Circle of Mobility concept," Elwell said. "That's why I'm sitting on the Bergen Arches committee - it is the only use for that route that seems acceptable to everyone."

Although O'Dea and Fitzgibbons argued that the jobs produced in the Meadowlands would not be high-paying, Doria argued that jobs were important to the people of Hudson County.

O'Dea said bus service existed that could be used to get people to those jobs just as easily and much more cheaply than a light rail link.

Doria, who was one of the key people in the negotiating of the light rail concept for Hudson County, argued that the rail link would get cars off the road.

Doria also emphasized the need of jobs for people in his community, and that the light rail is one way of getting people to these remote areas.

Although O'Dea said the county should look into promoting a new PATH Station in the west side of Jersey City that would benefit local residents more, Elwell said the light rail would provide a means of getting around the county that does not exist now, not merely a means to get out to the Meadowlands.

When explaining the role of the committee, Impreveduto said there are disagreements over how to provide service to the Meadowlands and different plans for the light rail.

If Hudson doesn't get its choice, Bergen could win out, and the light rail might end up elsewhere into Bergen County, he said.

Although the county does subsidize some bus service to the jobs in Secaucus, this is an added expense that light rail could help reduce. Regular bus service to stores, hotels and other job centers in Secaucus has been cut back over the years.

Fitzgibbons and O'Dea also claimed that no one knows what impact Xanadu will have on existing business in Hudson County, and that before the county pays to promote a rail link there, a study should be conducted.

State Assembly Speaker and West New York Mayor Albio Sires earlier this year said he had looked into the impact, and this was the reason he stopped opposing the project. He said many people in North Hudson needed the jobs the Meadowlands and Secaucus can provide.

Doria agreed, saying, "There are a lot of jobs out there. But this will also bring back people here to our waterfront. The light rail runs both directions."

Freeholder Chairman Sal Vega said buses can get caught up in traffic, and that the light rail would provide easy access not just for the mall but also for sporting events. Local teams from Hudson County use the sporting venues there.

"We want to take cars off the road," Doria said. "People can park in park-and-rides and get to the waterfront here or go to New York."

Bayonne's representative to the freeholder Board, Barry Dugan, voted to award the lobbying company the contract, saying the jobs were important to his community as well as to numerous communities throughout Hudson County.

County administrator Abe Antun said the contract would also include promoting the construction of a heavy base for the 49th Street station in Union City where the new North Hudson county college campus is slated to be constructed. But he acknowledged that this was not mentioned in the approval.

The final vote was 5-2. O'Dea and Fitzgibbons failed to get the resolution tabled.

At the public meeting, on Feb.11, Fitzgibbons reversed his position and voted to approve the contract, leaving O'Dea voting against it and Tilo Rivas abstaining.
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