County Engineer Bob Jasek released the results last week of a traffic study of the south end of Secaucus.
The study was commissioned to determine the effects of proposed development on the area, and to make suggestions for dealing with a possible traffic increase. It details both short- and long-term solutions, including lane changes, road extensions and a new bridge.
"Developers kept saying that their project would not have a negative effect on traffic in the area," Jasek said. "But with all those projects, there had to be an effect. We wanted to get an idea of what the problems were now, and what we can expect as these projects come into place."
The south Secaucus area is bounded by Secaucus Road on the north, route 1 & 9 (Tonnele Avenue) on the East, Meadowlands Parkway on the west, and the Hackensack River on the south.
The area, Jasek said, has a mixed use of light industrial, warehousing intermodal shipping, residential development, retail distribution and discount outlets.
Development activities to be experienced in that area include Allied Junction - a 4.7 million square foot office complex supported by retail/hotel facilities - and a 637,000 square foot convention center adjacent to Allied Junction. In addition to these plans and developments, redevelopment efforts through the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) could create a major mixed-use development that would add another 400,000 square feet of office space and 465,000 square feet of retail/entertainment space, as well as warehouse, light industrial and even a TV studio.
Along with all this, major roadway improvements are planned for the area, including the construction of a new exit from the New Jersey Turnpike, the extension of Seaview Drive to the Croxton rail yard, and reconstruction of some sections of Tonnele Avenue.
The Secaucus Transfer Station, which is the rail portion of Allied Junction, has been under construction since 1997 and will connect various rail lines through North Jersey and allow passengers to transfer to Amtrak Trains headed into central Manhattan. One of the key parts of the project was the exit from the Turnpike that would allow buses from South Jersey to drop off passengers at the station. State and county officials expect a significant increase in car traffic as a result as well as numerous buses that will bring passengers to the facility via the Turnpike as well as local roads.
"Additional long-range transportation infrastructure such as the Bergen Arches [in Jersey City] and the Portway project will have future impacts on the adjacent roadway system to south Secaucus area, which may influence traffic patterns within the study area," the study said.
The Bergen Arches is a rail right-of-way that touches the eastern portion of Secaucus near Tonnele Avenue and has been the focus of several transportation projects including light rail. The Portway project is part of a possible plan that would construct a road from the Croxton Yards on the border of Secaucus in Jersey City to Port Newark in Elizabeth, allowing easy transport of freight without clogging up local highways.
"The highways in this area have not been upgraded in over 50 years," said Mayor Dennis Elwell during an interview last week. "These are some of the oldest roads in the state and the last to be modernized. Roads like Tonnele Avenue and Charlotte's Circle are not suited for modern truck traffic. That's why something like the Portway could help cut down traffic in and around Secaucus."
Three projections provided
Schoor DePalma, the engineering firm hired by the county earlier this year to do the report, prepared a report on current road and traffic conditions as well as two traffic projections: one for 2006 and one for 2021, a point at which most current development and redevelopment projects will be completed.
To help deal with existing conditions, the study has recommended a series of lane changes and roadway detailing in order to better focus traffic along current roads. Traffic signals, increased length of turn lanes and other recommendations are part of the package. The largest and most costly of the recommendations would be a new bridge (called a grade separation) over tracks used to access Croxton Yards along New County Road.
"This is something we've been pushing for," Elwell said. "This would allow traffic to go in and out of that part of town without being held up by trains."
Currently, traffic backs up in that area each time a train exits or enters Croxton Yards along that line. This backup can often block traffic headed for Jersey City along County Avenue.
The study's traffic projections for 2006 call for a significant widening of all roads approaching the area, adjusting of timing of lights, and additional lane improvements on various roads.
The biggest traffic impact, the study stated, would occur by 2021 when all the current projects have been finished in the area. This will call for the construction of jug handles, overpasses, additional bridges, further widening of roads, and additional traffic signals.
The study also recommended the extension of Meadowlands Parkway south to help alleviate traffic to Laurel Hill Park redevelopment area and the new convention center. Currently the only access to that area is New County Avenue.
The study said Seaview Drive - which runs from Meadowlands Parkway and ends at Castle Road - should be extended all the way into Tonnele Avenue in Jersey City as an alternative truck route to the Croxton Yards. Elwell has raised some concerns about this since this recommendation would make Meadowlands Parkway a major conduit for truck traffic off Route 3.
"We have to be concerned because we have residential high rises, our hospital and several corporate headquarters along Meadowlands Parkway," he said.
Not just a Secaucus concern
Elwell said the study showed a significant increase in traffic over the last decade from previous studies and projected larger increases for the future. The traffic indications were designed to reflect the number of cars traveling through various areas at specific times of day, and the study showed the amount of overall traffic during peak and non-peak hours.
Elwell also noted that while the study may make recommendations, how to fund the projects still remains a concern. Getting approval from state and federal regulatory agencies also could be a chore.
"While this study looks at a specific part of Secaucus," Elwell said. "It hits on problems affect the whole area. You can no longer look at one area of a town or one town, you have to look at the region. Some of the things recommended in this study will help the whole region."
Elwell said finding alternative routes for trucks in and out of the industrial areas could have a dramatic effect on the quality of life in Secaucus. Many trucks access these areas from the Turnpike. Such trucks get off at Paterson Plank Road and turn onto County Road.
"New drivers or those unfamiliar with our town sometimes find themselves wandering in other parts of Secaucus," Elwell said. "Just the construction of the new Turnpike interchange near the transfer station will have a very positive affect on our traffic. Trucks can get off there without ever coming near the center of town."
But in order for this to become viable over the next few years, some of the county's recommendations must be implemented, particularly in dealing with rail crossings and the widening of roads.