New Jersey looks forward to success of trolley system

First leg of $1.1 billion system along Hudson River has opened

April 16, 2000|By New York Times News Service

BAYONNE, N.J. -- A half-century after the region's last streetcar disappeared to make way for more cars and buses, New Jersey officials are set to open the first leg of a $1.1 billion trolley system along the Hudson River.

It will carry 25,000 riders a day, and the entire project, when completed in 2010, is expected to carry more than 100,000 people through the most densely populated region in New Jersey.

The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, which was expected to carry its first fare-paying passenger Saturday, is the metropolitan region's most ambitious public transportation project since the 1960s, the largest public works program in New Jersey history and an intriguing look at the prospects for a transit system long deemed a part of the past. Officials say they hope the system will one day extend across New Jersey, linking light rail systems that are on the drawing board in other parts of the state.

"This is one of those infrastructure investments you make at the beginning of a century that serves you throughout the century," said James Weinstein, New Jersey state transportation commissioner.

Whether enough commuters can be coaxed out of their cars to make the system a success remains to be seen. But officials say they believe the 20.5-mile system, when completed, will not only persuade commuters to leave their cars at home, relieving clogged roads and easing polluted air, but will spur redevelopment in places that have thus far missed out on the region's economic boom.

Ten years in the making, the line will initially feed into the ferries and PATH trains that carry thousands of commuters to Manhattan as well as those who work along New Jersey's Hudson River waterfront. Once a wasteland of abandoned rail yards and rotting piers, the so-called Gold Coast in Hudson County has been transformed into a city of office towers and luxury apartments. An additional five million square feet of commercial space and thousands of apartments are planned in the next 10 years.

But until now, there has been no easy way to move north and south through the county, something that frustrates many of the 31,000 people who work along the waterfront.

"Without this rail line, we'll drown in our success," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate's Transportation Appropriation subcommittee who helped secure more than half the project's financing.

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