RELEASE: Gottheimer Demands U.S. Dept. Of Transportation Expedite Approval of Bergen-Hudson Light Rail Expansion
Critical Mass Transit Program — Will Cut Commutes, Pollution & Boost Jobs. USDOT Approved NY’s Congestion Tax without Full Environmental Study. USDOT Requiring Restart of Full Environmental Study, Despite NJ Transit Already Submitting & Complying.
Above: Gottheimer with state and local elected officials and labor to fight against bureaucratic delays to the Bergen- Hudson Light Rail Project.
LEONIA, NJ — Today, September 15, 2023, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer joined elected officials and labor leaders from across New Jersey to call on the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Transit Authority to stop playing games, reconsider their misguided decision, and commit to expediting the environmental impact statement (EIS) process and put the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail project back on track. In 2018, NJ Transit submitted a full EIS in 2018, but now, USDOT rejected the decades-long in-depth study and demanded that NJ Transit start from the beginning. USDOT’s decision could delay the project at least two years and cost millions of taxpayer dollars. NJ Transit has been working and cooperating with USDOT on the expansion for 15 years. Leonia is a planned station for the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail.
Today, Gottheimer and Representatives Andy Kim (NJ-3) and Bonnie Watson-Coleman (NJ-12) sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg earlier today calling on DOT and the Federal Transit Authority to immediately commit to expediting the environmental impact statement process and put the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail project back on track.
For every $1 dollar we invest in infrastructure, there’s more than $3 dollars of economic output.
Thousands of Northern Bergen County residents will be able to commute to and from Hudson County and New York City.
Project will extend the current light rail from Tonnelle Avenue in Hudson County, north to Englewood Hospital in Bergen County — providing service to towns between and improving commutes for residents and hospital workers at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
Rather than driving or taking the bus to New York, the expanded light rail will allow families to take the train to the City in about thirty minutes.
The light rail is faster, cheaper, more reliable, and better for the environment, and will boost economic development in North Jersey, create jobs, and attract businesses.
In the case of New York’s anti-environment, $23/day Congestion Tax, USDOT accepted a slimmed down and hurried environmental assessment, instead of a thorough in-depth EIS report — a clear double standard. The Congestion Tax will cause more traffic and cancer-causing pollution in North Jersey.
“Unfortunately, despite all the dollars many of us fought for in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to fund projects like this one, USDOT is holding it up, putting a wrench in NJ Transit and mass transit, and setting the timeline back for completion. It’s bureaucracy at its finest. The light rail is faster, cheaper, more reliable, and better for the environment. This expansion will also be a huge boost for economic development in the area — key to creating jobs and getting more businesses to North Jersey,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “North Jersey needs more mass transit options like this one and USDOT is preventing that from happening without a clear explanation. I’m all for making sure the proper assessments are complete. In fact, that’s what many of us have been calling for in New York City with the proposed Congestion Tax. But, USDOT approves the MTA’s Congestion Tax plan, urges more mass transit, which would be happening right here, and now they give us the middle finger. Maybe someone making the decision over at the USDOT in Washington plans to retire and move into New York City.”
“It’s unbelievable but we have been talking about the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail for my entire time in the legislature and somehow, between the FTA and NJ Transit we can’t seem to get this railroad built to Bergen County,” said State Senator Gordon M. Johnson. “It’s inexcusable and contrary to the environmental initiatives at the state and federal level. This project will take cars off the road, reduce the region’s carbon footprint and improve the quality of life for the people in District 37 and throughout the county. We don’t need a brand new environmental impact study, because the impact on the environment is too great if we don’t get this done.”
“FTA’s latest roadblock to getting cars off the road is beyond the pale. America has been building railroads for 200 years but for some reason we can’t seem to complete a few miles of above ground tracks in less than 30 years. We are in the midst of a climate crisis, we need to reduce our carbon footprint and we need to expand mass transit on every possible front. The President agrees with that, our governor agrees with that, but our bureaucracy can’t seem to get out of the way in order to make that happen. We can’t wait another two years just to get started,” said Assemblywoman Shama Haider.
“Let me emphasize the urgency of this issue. The Bergen-Hudson Light Rail system holds immense potential to revolutionize transportation in Bergen County. It will provide a new, efficient, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation, opening up opportunities for country residents to commute, explore, and connect with our communities. But we face a roadblock that deters progress and deprives our residents of this transformative option,” said Bergen County Commissioner Tom Sullivan.
“Traffic has only gotten worse, the need for light rail has only gotten worse, and when I got a call two weeks ago to let me know that the DOT had decided that they were going to put a pause on this project that is needed not just by Leonia, but every community that this line will serve, for another two years, I was outraged. Thank goodness we have Congressman Gottheimer who is taking up this cause and championing this cause,” said Leonia Mayor Judah Zeigler.
“We’re here today to support Congressman Gottheimer’s efforts to finally move forward with the expansion of the light rail into Bergen County. This project has been delayed for way too long,” said Daniel Oretga of Operating Engineers Local 825. “It’s shocking to hear that the United States DOT would put a roadblock to this project after so many years of studies and the need for more and better transportation options in Bergen County.”
Gottheimer was joined by Senator Gordon Johnson, Assemblywoman Shama Haider and Ellen Park, Bergen County Commissioners Tom Sullivan, Rafael Marte, Tracy Zur, Dr. Joan Voss, Amoroso, andSteven Tanelli, Leonia Mayor Judah Zeigler, Council President Louis Gradelis, and Councilmembers Pasquale Fusco, William Zeigler, and Joanne Choi Terrell, Daniel Oretga of Operating Engineers Local 825, and hardworking men and women of labor from across New Jersey.
Below: Gottheimer with state and local elected officials and labor to fight against bureaucratic delays to the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail Project.
Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
Good morning. I want to thank everyone here today — from our state and local elected officials to our hardworking men and women of labor — for coming together as a united front in our fight to move the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail expansion project forward. Every person here is a tireless leader and advocate for mass transit in New Jersey and I’m proud to stand with them. I also want to thank Senator Menendez and Booker, Loretta Weinberg, and Senator Sarlo for helping champion this project over the years.
It’s good to be back in Leonia, one of the planned stations for the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail, where, one day, thousands of residents from here and Northern Bergen County will be able to commute to and from Hudson County and New York City. The expansion project will extend the current light rail from Tonnelle Avenue in Hudson County, north to Englewood Hospital in Bergen County — providing service to towns between and improving commutes for everyone, including folks here in Leonia and hospital workers at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
This expansion will also be a huge boost for economic development in the area — key to creating jobs and getting more businesses to North Jersey.
Unfortunately, despite all the dollars many of us fought for in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to fund projects like this one, the U.S. Department of Transportation is holding it up, putting a wrench in NJ Transit and mass transit, and setting the timeline back for completion. It’s bureaucracy at its finest. We’re here today to fight back against the red tape and bureaucracy and stand up for the families here in Northern New Jersey.
Since 2007, thanks to leaders like those who are standing here today, and labor across our state, NJ Transit has worked to expand the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail. The Administration claims to want more mass transit, but their recent actions don’t make any sense.
When the new expanded light rail is complete, instead of having to drive into Manhattan or catch the bus to the city, our families in Jersey can take the train to New York – in about thirty minutes.
The light rail is faster, cheaper, more reliable, and better for the environment. And the expansion will create jobs for our men and women of labor.
So, what’s the holdup? As part of any project like this one, you have to conduct and submit an environmental study to the federal government – looking at everything from flooding issues to pollution to impact on wildlife.
I’m all for making sure the proper assessments are complete. In fact, that’s what many of us have been calling for in New York City with the proposed Congestion Tax.
In that case, the federal government accepted a slimmed down, hurried, cliff notes environmental study, instead of a thorough in-depth report called an Environmental Impact Statement.
In the case of the Bergen Light Rail, NJ Transit conducted more than a decade of studies and then submitted a full Environmental Impact Statement to the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2018. Five years later, out of nowhere, in the last couple of weeks, they rejected the decades-long in-depth study and demanded that NJ Transit start from the beginning.
Yup, you heard me right – after years of cooperation, data gathering, and submission, the bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Transportation told Jersey to start over, setting back the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail two more years.
For the last fifteen years, since 2007, NJ Transit has cooperated every step of the way, but the US DOT continues to screw over Jersey. Instead of asking them for more information or tweaks, which is standard, the DOT wants them to do it again, which will delay mass transit and cost taxpayers millions of dollars for no reason.
I want to know what has changed so massively since 2018, but this reeks of bureaucracy.
For those who don’t know about this project, let me reiterate why it’s so important to North Jersey, our families, our economy, and our environment.
Unfortunately, for many people who live in North Jersey, there just aren’t mass transit options. While here in Leonia, you can take the 166 from down the street to the Port Authority Bus Terminal — which will likely have you sitting in traffic.
But In Englewood, it could take you more than an hour to take the bus into the City — that’s just 11 miles — and back home after a long day.
Since 2011, commute times have increased by 8.8 percent. That’s insane.
In fact, two recent traffic reports show Jersey drivers wasted the equivalent of three work weeks annually sitting in traffic in 2021 and 2022. New Jersey drivers have the third longest commutes in America. Not to mention, getting more folks to take mass transit will help keep our air cleaner, which is why many of us have fought so hard for it.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill includes $4.5 billion for NJ Transit, electric buses, and is, at long last, building the Gateway Train Tunnel.
All of this is exactly why we need more mass transit options as soon as possible.
Here are two realities: right now, we can’t add more trains into Penn Station. There just isn’t the capacity in the existing 110-year-old tunnels nor room on the platform in Penn Station. The Bergen Light Rail will take folks to the Path or ferry. Then there is the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It’s bursting at the seams.
Built more than seventy years ago, the Terminal accommodates 260,000 riders every day, far exceeding the planned 60,000 daily commuters. It’s a hot mess, which is why it’s scheduled to be leveled and rebuilt to handle a lot more traffic.
The light rail expansion is a clear solution to help commuters and expand mass transit – yet, despite working on it for 15 years, the DOT wants to set back the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail with even more roadblocks.
That’s why today, along with Representatives Andy Kim and Bonnie Watson-Coleman who couldn’t join us today, and with the backing of everyone here and across North Jersey, we are demanding that the US Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Authority stop playing games and reconsider their misguided decision.
We sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg earlier today calling on DOT and the Federal Transit Authority to immediately commit to expediting the environmental impact statement process and put the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail project back on track.
The families we represent deserve a speedy approval process from DOT and full transparency from into what actions they’re taking to invest in mass transit options in Northern New Jersey.
If anything, DOT can at least explain to all of us here on this side of the river the reason for their latest double standard.
As I mentioned earlier, they greenlit New York’s outrageous Congestion Tax without a full environmental study, even though the MTA told the DOT the Congestion Tax will cause more traffic and cancer-causing pollution at the nearby GW Bridge. They stuck our families with a $23 dollar a day new tax for driving to work or to see a doctor in New York City. But in this case, with the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail, they actually completed and submitted the full Environmental Impact Statement – and worked closely with them to update it over the years — yet the DOT is still rejecting it.
So, they approve the MTA’s plan, urge more mass transit, which would be happening right here, and the DOT gives us the middle finger.
Maybe someone making the decision over at the US DOT in Washington plans to retire and move into New York City. I don’t know.
The bottom line is that North Jersey needs more mass transit options like this one and DOT is preventing that from happening without a clear explanation.
Secretary Buttigieg needs to get his department and agencies in order because investing in mass transit should be his top priority. It’s great for commute times and the economy, creates jobs, protects the environment, and helps make life more affordable for families.
For every $1 dollar we invest in infrastructure, there’s more than $3 dollars of economic output.
So, on all fronts, this just makes sense.
I know by working together and investing in our communities and our future, for New Jersey and here in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us. Thank you and God bless you.
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