The planned 9-mile extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into Bergen County suffered a major setback this week as the Federal Transit Administration rescinded its Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact study.
The decision, which was published in the Federal Register Aug. 29, pertains to the stretch known as the Northern Branch. Advocated for by officials and residents for many years and even decades, the proposed extension would run from Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen through eastern Bergen County up to Englewood Hospital and Medical Center with seven suggested stops.
The NOI was first granted in 2007; the FTA says it’s being rescinded for several reasons.
“Based on FTA’s most recent review of the project, FTA has decided to rescind the NOI due to all-encompassing changes in the project design and environmental impacts in the following areas: floodplains, stormwater management, cultural resources, hazardous material, traffic and parking, and air quality, all of which have occurred since 2007,” reads the noticed published in the Federal Register.
The last supplemental draft of environmental impacts was completed in 2018.
Lawmakers as well as local leaders and stakeholders immediately chided the decision.
“Let me make this crystal clear: the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail extension into Bergen County is not a luxury; it’s a necessity,” said Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco. “This project, which is critically important for the residents and businesses of one of the most densely populated regions in the nation, holds the key to alleviating congestion, meeting the ever-growing mass transit demands of our community, and ultimately fostering a healthier and sustainable environment for all.”
Tedesco added that Bergen County residents deserve efficient, sustainable and accessible transportation options.
“And I am absolutely appalled that such little progress has been made on this project,” he said. “It’s well past time for New Jersey Transit, the Federal Transit Administration, and others to step up and commit the immediate funding required to keep this project on track. We cannot afford to let bureaucracy and indecision derail the progress that our residents need, and I will continue to fight until Bergen County residents have the transportation infrastructure they deserve.”
“The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Northern Extension has been promised for over a decade,” said Bergen County Commissioner Chairman Tom Sullivan. “There is a long list of reasons why it’s a necessary addition to Bergen County’s transit map, including environmental benefits and sustainable economic growth. It’s time to follow through and get this done.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said this extension project is about spurring job growth, supporting small businesses, reducing energy costs, and saving commuters time and money.
“The FTA’s decision to further delay the planning and environmental review process on this critically needed project will come at a great cost to the families, workers, and small businesses in one of the most densely populated areas of New Jersey, who have waited far too long for expanded transit options,” said Menendez. “The FTA and New Jersey must move expeditiously to advance this project and work with federal, state and local officials to ensure we deliver critical infrastructure to this part of the Garden State.”
In a statement, the FTA told NJBIZ, “More than 15 years ago, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and New Jersey Transit (NJT) began the federal environmental review process for NJT’s Northern Branch Corridor Project. Since that time, significant changes by the project sponsor in the design of the project, as well as environmental conditions and impacts, have left FTA unable to complete the review.
“NJT has also been unable to identify local and state funding to support the matching requirements to secure federal funding. Because of those changes, FTA has rescinded a Notice of Intent without rendering a determination regarding the project’s environmental impacts. If NJT chooses to advance the project, FTA will reinitiate an environmental review,” the FTA added.
New Jersey Transit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is already bringing record levels of guaranteed federal funding to New Jersey for transit capital projects and has created new opportunities to secure additional discretionary funding on the federal side,” Menendez added. “There’s no excuse not to get this project done, and I won’t rest until it’s completed.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:06 p.m. ET Sept. 1, 2023, to include a statement from the FTA.