The dream of creating a nine-mile, 135-acre linear park from Essex to Hudson County may be coming to an end, as project financing and purchase opportunities are set to expire, according to advocates for the proposal.
The Open Space Institute (OSI), the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance have partnered in an effort to create the Essex-Hudson Greenway. The greenway would run along Norfolk Southern Rail Corporation’s (NSRC) former Boonton Line, a shuttered rail line that traverses eight municipalities in Essex and Hudson Counties.
The idea is “to create a safe, off-road trail to ride a bike and walk; ease traffic and offer active transportation options; create alternate commuting options; provide close-to-home, easy access to the outdoors and bring much needed green space to urban communities,” the partners said. “Currently, the line creates a blight and a hazard to every town along the line, which will only worsen as pieces are carved off and others left abandoned.”
The project has garnered support from a wide range of elected officials, including Mayors Michael Gonnelli of Secaucus and Steven Fulop of Jersey City. Last November, the Secaucus Town Council adopted a resolution supporting the project.
However advocates say that without immediate action by the Murphy administration, the project “will evaporate.”
After working with administrative, legislative and local officials for more than a year, and developing a long-term funding plan to purchase the greenway property, project proponents say that state leaders are allowing the opportunity to slip away.
In January 2020, OSI secured a time-limited agreement with NSRC for the purchase of the former Boonton Line. Having already secured one extension to finalize the deal, time is running out to complete the purchase of the property, according to advocates. Under terms of the $65 million agreement, the transfer needs to be completed by January 2022, leaving a short time to complete the land transfer.
With the purchase contract secured with NSRC set to expire, the company will soon be free to start selling off pieces of the line and the adjoining property it owns. Most at risk of being sold off separately is land at the eastern most end of the proposed linear park, and in Newark where there are “already offers on the table,” according to project proponents.
The state’s inaction is also jeopardizing $155 million in funding, which is currently being held at the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank (I-Bank), proponents said. These funds would finance $65 million for purchase and $90 million for site development.
It is proposed that those loans be repaid over the next 30 years through funds from the Realty Transfer Fund (RTF) that had been used for land protection under the sun-setting Highlands Act. If the state does not act with the I-Bank soon, the funds will be reallocated to other projects and the RTF will be absorbed into the general fund.
Advocates voice their concerns
“Action is needed now to determine whether the Essex-Hudson Greenway is going to become reality or be allowed to die on the vine,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute. “While there have been many months of encouraging conversations with county and state officials and displays of high-level endorsement, deadlines are quickly approaching that must be met to save the project for the people of New Jersey.”
“Over and over, engaging with the public through more than 50 public meetings, forums and extensive local outreach, we have heard about the need for this linear park for northern New Jersey from the public, community, faith, and business leaders, and local elected officials,” said Debra Kagan, executive director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. “This vast support and the availability of capital funds within the state coupled with the environmental, economic, equity, and public health benefits of the Essex-Hudson Greenway make the state’s indecision to move ahead with the project inexplicable as it now puts the entire project at risk.”
“The Essex-Hudson Greenway is a critical nonmotorized infrastructure development opportunity in two of the most densely populated and underserved counties in New Jersey,” said Thomas Baxter, president of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance. “We believe that New Jersey is missing a significant opportunity to take a leadership role to accomplish this tremendous trail that is part of completing the 1,300-mile alignment connecting the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.”
Murphy lukewarm to the idea?
In late June, Murphy indicated he was “openminded” to the idea. While it wasn’t an overwhelming endorsement, Murphy indicated he would “follow up” with policy makers which made some advocates hopeful.
“We are encouraged by the recent public support of the governor and are looking forward to working with his administration to identify a funding package to bring this project to fruition,” said Kagan.
However, any meaningful action to secure the future of the project has yet to be taken.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.