When people look back at the official opening of the Eighth Street station of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail on Jan. 31, few are going to remember how cold it was or how the snow piles along some city streets rose high above their heads.
Some people may even forget who exactly attended the unveiling of the plaque, or that the site bears the name of Robert J. Burrows, a prominent city councilman who fought hard to fulfill his vision of a new passenger rail line that would service the residents of Bayonne.
This will be the day when Bayonne – from top to bottom – became connected again to the outside world, when residents could once more use rail service to get to jobs, entertainment, and other activities outside the city’s boundaries, and the day to which Bergen Point merchants and residents looked forward to as a rebirth of their portion of the city.
“The light rail system is a model of how to link communities with transportation options to encourage economic development.” – Senator Robert Menendez
“I didn’t realize how important that was at the time,” he said, saying that the new station will help restore the connectivity the city lost when the old rail line closed.
The ceremony brought together many of the key people involved in making the new station possible, extending the light rail to its southern most point to date, and throwing open the doors to potential development in areas not previously considered prime real estate.
Boarding a train at 34th Street in Bayonne, city, state, and national elected officials joined the staff of New Jersey Transit and others for the maiden trip into the new station, traveling along the elevated track of the new rail segment to arrive at the station.
N.J. Transit Executive Director James Weinstein said projects like this were made possible partly because of the $672 million dedicated to N.J. Transit as part of Governor Christopher Christie’s new Transportation Capital Plan. However, the roots of this project go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a handful of visionaries believed a new rail line was viable.
Weinstein winced when several other speakers spoke out of county options, especially the fact that the name includes Bergen County, when to date the line travels only inside Hudson County.
“The light rail system is a model of how to link communities with transportation options to encourage economic development, ease traffic congestion, reduce pollution, and reduce our dependence on oil,” said U.S. Senator Robert Menendez. “The Eighth Street extension in Bayonne will further connect people and opportunities, putting employment, education, and recreation within easy and affordable reach.”
Menendez, even while still serving in the House of Representatives, and Rep. Albio Sires are credited with bringing in federal dollars to help make the light rail a reality.
Sires, who joked about the cold, said this rail line provides a great convenience to the people of Hudson County, and celebrated the recent expansion of the line into north Hudson.
“Some people questioned the station on 48th Street in Union City,” Sires said. “Now that is the most used station in the line.”
Smith said the rail line augments other modes of transportation, providing people with a rail option.
Last stage in a larger project
The light rail began operations in the late 1990s with rail service to 45th Street and 34th Street in Bayonne, as well as several points in Jersey City. It expanded to Pavonia/Newport, Hoboken, Weehawken, Union City, and North Bergen soon after. The line was extended to 22nd Street in Bayonne in 2003, and in 2008, N.J. Transit awarded a $58.4 million contract to George Harms Construction of Howell, N.J., for work to extend the light rail one-mile south from 22nd Street to Eighth Street, using some existing Conrail railway along Avenue E. A viaduct was built to carry light rail vehicles over local streets to an elevated platform at the new Eighth Street Station, which features an elevator and stairs between the street and platform levels. The total extension cost about $100 million.
“The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail is much more than a transportation system, it is an engine of economic development for the region, creating jobs during its construction and now serving as the vehicles of choice for thousands who live and work here as they use the system for their daily commute,” said Brigid Hynes-Cherin, regional administrator for the Federal Transportation Administration.
Named after light rail advocate
The station was named after former Bayonne Councilman Robert J. Burrows, who lobbied hard to get Bayonne included in the network. Burrows, who died in 2007, lived to see three stations opened in Bayonne and the proposals for the new station on the drawing board.
His daughter, Kim Burrow Birdsall, council president in Rutherford, said no project made him prouder than this one.
"Bob is surely looking down from heaven and smiling," she said.
Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell called Burrow “a true gentleman” and his role model.
“I grew up in the shadow of the old station, and this is a special day – the rebirth of southern Bayonne,” O’Donnell said.
On hand with her students from nearby Holy Family Academy, Principal Mary Tremitiedi said the extension will not only allow her to commute to the school from her residence in Hoboken, but will make her school more attractive to residents throughout Hudson County since the station is within walking distance of the school.
“Many of my students are looking forward to using the new station for travel to and from school, as well,” she said.
The new facility was designed for pedestrian access for local residents, and features an auto drop-off point and two new bus stops that will allow people to connect to the No. 81 Bayonne-Jersey City bus and the No. 120 Bayonne-Downtown New York bus.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.