Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey signed new legislation on Friday at the 25th Meadowlands Region Chamber of Commerce Transportation Summit held at the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
The Meadowlands Transportation Enhancement District Bill requires developers to help pay for traffic alleviation projects as part of their contract to construct new developments. Fees will be levied as they relate to the development's impact on the transportation in their area.
The bill also creates the Hackensack Meadowlands Transportation Planning District, covering those areas under jurisdiction by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC).The NJMC is essentially a zoning and planning department for a district that spans 32 square miles and is comprised of 14 municipalities throughout Hudson and Bergen counties. Secaucus is completely enveloped by the Meadowlands District and part of North Bergen is in it as well. By state statute, the NJMC controls zoning for 89.4 percent of Secaucus. A nine-member Meadowlands Transportation Planning Board will manage the transportation district. "The Meadowlands have a future, and it is a bright one," Codey said. "The efforts of many are involved here. Developers will become part of the solution, not part of the problem." Speakers for the Summit included Kevin McMahon, chairman and chief executive officer of Edwards and Kelsey, Inc.; Dr. David Listokin, director of the Institute of Meadowlands Studies at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy; George Warrington, executive director of NJ Transit; Michael Lapolla, executive director of NJ Turnpike Authority, NJMC member Robert Ceberio, and Carl Goldberg of the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority.
Two years in the making
The bill was the brainchild of State Sen. Paul A. Sarlo (D-Bergen, Essex, Passaic). Personnel from every agency represented at the Summit have been responsible for project development, research and hours of networking. "We must get this right to ensure the promise and potential of the Meadowlands," said Kirkos. "Advancing improvements in the transportation and transit network require hard decisions and is not for the faint of heart. We must use wisdom, not just building expertise."
The bill received final legislation approval on June 20. Primary sponsors included Senator Sarlo along with state Sen. Nicholas Sacco, and Assembly members Gordon M. Johnson and Loretta Weinberg.
Sarlo said the bill will provide "seed money" to help turn aging roads, problem bottlenecks and grade crossings into powerful infrastructure, connecting jobs with housing provided by developers.
Local pols say that it remains to be seen how much federal money will come to this area, so it's good to augment it with local funds.
The crucial nexus of federal funding is tittering in the guise of a transit bill known as TEA-21 (Transportation Efficiency Act of the 21st Century) reauthorization. The bill addresses several key issues directly effecting the development of transportation infrastructure. The only problem is, the bill expired in September of 2003. Now it is on its seventh extension, terminating June 30. House and Senate negotiators says a six-year reauthorization depends on whether President Bush will veto the proposed $286.5 billion for the federal highway and transit programs, which exceed his $284 billion cutoff point.
"This is a tough fight we'll have to wage in November," said state Department of Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere. "But it really has nothing to do with roads and bridges. It's about people - how we get our kids to school, the elderly and disabled out into the world, how we get everyone to work. That's the ultimate goal." The success of economic development in the Meadowlands region hinges on mobility issues. In order to link new housing, job creation, and businesses with adequate transportation, a considerable amount of money must be made available.
Infrastructure projects like transit access to the Sports Complex, reactivation of old transit lines, and Turnpike improvements can only be accomplished with additional billions from federal coffers.
"There is no reason to not begin these projects. We cannot wait to see what the financial future will hold as our highways and transit systems decline," said Lettiere.