The Murphy administration is handing off the management of an ambitious New Jersey Transit train station in North Brunswick along the Northeast Corridor to a private developer and local county agency, but it is still not clear what the total price tag will be.
Wednesday’s memorandum of understanding between NJ Transit and the Middlesex County Improvement Authority means that the local agency will enter a public-private partnership with Millburn-based Garden Homes Development for the 200-acre complex dubbed Main Street North Brunswick.
The project would lack the Mid-Line Loop, an elevated track located near the station to allow trains to essentially make a u-turn, so that they do not have to travel all the way to Trenton on the congested NEC line. That part is still without funding and not under construction. But NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said a nearby service yard could serve that function, even though it would be much less efficient than the loop.
Talks about a train station in North Brunswick on Route 1 have been ongoing for at least a decade; it was first announced in 2013, several years after Johnson & Johnson vacated the property.
The site would serve as a midway point between New Brunswick and Princeton Junction – a 14 mile stretch of train tracks with no station, making it the longest such track in the state.
And with the NEC running parallel to frequently congested Route 1, it could provide massive relief to commuters by taking more cars off the roadway.
The state already awarded the project $50 million in 2017 from the Transportation Trust Fund – with another $20 million coming from Middlesex County – to handle the site design, engineering and complex level of permitting with state and federal transportation officials.
But neither state officials nor the developer could gauge the total price tag on the project.
“It hasn’t been designed yet,” Corbett said as one reason.
It is unclear whether more money would come from the Transportation Trust Fund, NJ Transit, the county, Garden Homes Development or other private businesses.
“Right now, no,” Kevin added. First, the MCIA and developer would have to draw up the plans for the train station and surrounding area, a process which they said could take upwards of two years.
“At that point, we’ll see if there’s a need,” Corbett added.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Frieder, the developer’s managing partner, did not indicate the potential price tag. It includes “more than a platform” and ranges from roadways to stormwater management, which complicates those calculations. But, he pointed out that under the MOU the county authority would handle the public side of development, such as the train station, while the developers would handle the surrounding transit village of shops, restaurants and 1,800 apartments, constituting such “transit-oriented development” that is being pursued at train stations across the state.
Still, Garden Homes Development already put up $11 million for nearby highway improvements.
“So yes, we marry private capital with state capital in a private-public partnership,” Frieder said.
Janet Chernetz, deputy director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, maintained that the price would simply continue increasing as the project gets dragged out.
“We have a lot of transit hubs in the state and developing those under the transit village program is certainly something we need to do,” she said. “Here it’s the opposite way, we have the development first and the transit station last.”