Will the American Dream be a traffic nightmare for Secaucus?

NJ Transit missed a deadline to begin advertising its transportation plan for the mega mall

NJ Transit plans on adding more buses to three of its bus routes.
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NJ Transit plans on adding more buses to three of its bus routes.

The American Dream project, formerly known as Xanadu, towers above the Meadowlands of East Rutherford and can be seen from places as far away as North Bergen. Since it was first proposed in 2003, it’s gone through a series of never-met opening dates, along with a succession of developers that bailed after hitting economic bumps, flat-lining construction.

The developer, Triple Five, initially estimated an opening date of March, 2019. After more delays, which the developer promises will be the last, Oct. 25 was announced as the date for the opening of the $5 billion mega mall.

A massive roster of retailers includes more than 100 restaurants; theme parks featuring record-breaking roller coasters; an indoor water park; and the largest indoor ski slope in the world, all adjacent to the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

The facility recently held a job fair seeking to fill 1,200 of more than 16,000 jobs.

The mall is expected to receive 30-40 million visitors in its first year of operation and is slated to have 30,000 parking spaces.

Triple Five, NJ Transit, or other state agencies will have to deal with massive transportation issues.

Meanwhile, NJ Transit missed a deadline at the end of July to advertise its transportation plan for the opening of the mall. Observers are taking this as a sign to worry even more than before about future traffic on local routes.

What’s the plan to reduce traffic?

NJ Transit missed a deadline to begin advertising its transportation plan three months in advance of American Dream’s opening date. NJT hasn’t provided many elements of the plan, other than expanding three of its bus routes.

The deadline to advertise a plan was part of the memorandum of understanding among Triple Five; the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (which owns the adjacent Meadowlands Sports Complex); and NJ Transit.

With less than three months until the October opening date, the only clues are from NJ Transit’s adopted FY 2020 budget. The budget suggests NJT will spend $8 million in an attempt to get American Dream customers to ditch cars, in favor of buses.

Because the plan has not yet been made public, it’s unclear what contributions, if any, Triple Five would make toward transportation improvements.

NJ Transit is still cash-strapped despite recent state funding increases. It’s expected that NJT will be hit with hundreds of thousands more passengers on their way to the mall.

NJ Transit is reportedly considering three bus routes in the area, NJT Executive Director Kevin Corbett told the press. It will seek to expand shuttle buses to the mall from the Secaucus train station, along with expanding express buses from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.

Corbett said NJT is also considering beefing up a route from the Hoboken Bus Terminal, which will go through the Jersey City Heights neighborhood and parts of Union City.

Will Secaucus be slammed?

Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli has been expressing worry for years over the impact that the American Dream will have on Route 3 and other local highways. The fact that NJ Transit hasn’t published its transportation plan yet, he said, only adds to his apprehension about the opening date.

Secaucus’s local roadways are already gridlocked when fans attend Giants and Jets games. Traffic to events at the Meadowlands Sports Complex is heavily concentrated on Route 3.

While NJ Transit’s plan banks on bus schedules frequent enough to convince mall-goers to leave their cars behind, Gonnelli fears that American Dream’s impact on local traffic and emergency services will be nothing short of a nightmare.

Secaucus is slated to receive $100,000 yearly for the first two years the mall is open, and $200,000 per year after that, to deal with the ongoing impact, based on an agreement made in 2004 with a different developer, Xanadu, and much smaller blueprint, Gonnelli said. Triple Five was grandfathered into the 2004 arrangement.

“There will be hundreds of thousands of people going to that place each year, and many of them will be going through Secaucus along Route 3 to get there,” Gonnelli previously told The Hudson Reporter. “Our EMS will be responsible for what goes on there. The $100,000 they are giving us won’t cover the cost of hiring one police officer.”

Gonnelli said that the impact fees Secaucus will receive to deal with the traffic are slim pickings compared to what other towns are receiving. He said that Carlstadt is expected to receive $1 million per year, and Rutherford will likely receive $24 million to build a new police station along with its annual impact fees.

He said that the plan for impact fees should be reexamined, because Triple Five’s structure will be much more highly visible to Secaucus, and residents might consider the megamall’s towering structures and 19 massive digital billboards an eyesore.

“You can only look at a gigantic Ferris wheel so many times before you get sick of it,” Gonnelli said. “We’re the only nearby town that sees such a huge amount of the mall.”

With little information at his disposal from both NJ Transit and Triple Five, Gonnelli said he knows a bit about the opening schedule. He said that the mall will be open in a number of stages, beginning with the amusement parks, before retailers begin opening their doors. He expects this year’s Christmas shopping rush to be just a small taste of the shopper stampedes when American Dream is fully opened.

He doesn’t anticipate his line of communication with NJ Transit or Triple Five improving, but he and other Secaucus officials will keep trying to negotiate for help with traffic mitigation.

“I’ve been trying to speak with the developer, but I can’t really get any information out of them,” Gonnelli said. “All we can do is try to keep trudging forward, and hopefully, we can see results that work for us.”

For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.