Every step of the way, through the planning stages and simple proposals that were nothing more than discussions, there had to be provisions that would include the Weehawken waterfront as a major hub for mass transit. It was a necessity.
First, there was the inception of the NY Waterway ferry system, which called the Weehawken waterfront its home. In operation since 1987, the NY Waterway ferry system, owned and operated by Arcorp President Arthur Imperatore, has serviced countless commuters over the years.
A few years ago, NJ Transit entered the picture, when the plans for the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail System were announced. The system was set to include a stop and subsequent station in Weehawken, adjacent to the NY Waterway ferry terminal.
So it was apparent that the two transportation entities would have to find a way to work together, one way or another, to reach common ground in servicing thousands of daily commuters.
Last Thursday, the first major step was completed when the two transportation giants announced the formation of a partnership that will eventually lead to a new $25 million ferry terminal and a new Light Rail station being constructed along the Weehawken waterfront.
The NJ Transit Board of Directors agreed last Thursday to advance the public/private partnership project.
The project is one of five approved by the New Jersey Department of Transportation under the Public/Private Partnership Act of 1997, which provides funding for demonstration projects involving the private sector that enhance public transportation and related services in New Jersey.
The construction and long-term lease of the ferry terminal is subject to the approval of the Joint Budget Oversight Committee and the New Jersey Legislature. The federal government would provide 83 percent of the funding for the estimated $25 million project; the balance would be provided by the State Transportation Trust Fund. NY Waterway plans to begin serving the new terminal in late 2004.
"Visionary projects like this create new partnerships between the public and private sectors that improve the quality of life for thousands of New Jersey residents," said Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco. "This effort will combine the expertise and resources of the State of New Jersey and NY Waterway to quickly deliver a project that improves regional mobility and encourages economic development along the Hudson River waterfront."
NJ Transit officials also readily accepted the partnership.
"The Weehawken ferry terminal project - a public/private partnership strongly endorsed by Acting Governor DiFrancesco - is crucial to addressing New Jersey's current and future growth in commuter trips across the Hudson River," said state Transportation Commissioner James Weinstein, who also serves as the chairman for NJ Transit. "NY Waterway is one of the great success stories of the 20th Century and we look forward to working with them on this vital transportation project."
"Anyone who rides NJ Transit rains or buses into Manhattan on a daily basis experiences the overcrowding conditions that exist today," said NJ Transit Executive Director Jeffrey A. Warsh. "This joint project between the New Jersey Department of Transportation, NJ Transit and NY Waterway will help to provide some capacity relief while offering a new intermodal connection between Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and Hudson River ferry service."
NY Waterway officials also applauded the move.
"Thanks to Gov. DiFrancesco, Commissioner Weinstein and NJ Transit, thousands of new commuters will be able to enjoy safe, reliable and environmentally-friendly ferry service between New Jersey and New York, improving the quality of life throughout the region," said NY Waterway President Arthur E. Imperatore, Jr. "This innovative public-private partnership will allow us to double the number of ferry commuters between Weehawken and Manhattan over the next 10 years, providing much-needed relief to crowded bridges and tunnels."
The agreement will allow NJ Transit to acquire property for the project - most of which is into the Hudson River - and then broker a deal with NY Waterway and Romulus Development Corp., the owner of the land where the new terminal will be built, for the construction of a terminal building and 32-year lease of the facility.
The cost of the project is not to exceed $25 million.
In exchange for constructing the terminal, the state of New Jersey will receive a lease fee from New York Waterway and Romulus Development Corp. based on the number of ferry passengers carried on the Weehawken ferry service.
The new terminal building, which will replace the existing, but soon-to-be-antiquated terminal, will house NY Waterway ferry service from Weehawken to several destinations in New York.
The new ferry terminal, which is currently proposed as a three-story structure and 30,000 square feet in space, will include a waiting area, retail space and dockage capabilities for four boats. Construction of the new terminal would allow NY Waterway to increase the service it already provides between Weehawken and New York. The project also includes an 800-foot waterfront pedestrian esplanade, providing a scenic and convenient pedestrian access to the new terminal.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner was also pleased with the proposed deal between NJ Transit and NY Waterway.
"Because of the proposed Roseland [development] Project, NY Waterway had always planned to move its ferry terminal north a few blocks," Turner said. "That has been in the works for more than two years. The ferry terminal is scheduled to be built right across from where the Light Rail station is going to be [below Old Glory Park, at approximately 48th Street.] Now, NJ Transit has agreed to built the facility and take on the costs. That was the biggest question, where NY Waterway was going to get the funds to build a new terminal."
Added Turner, "We want to make sure that the area will be a state-of-the-art mass transit facility. Of course, we will want to see the designs, to verify that it all makes sense. But with the two means of mass transit working together, it will go a long way to alleviate the traffic problems along Boulevard East. We have to get everything triple approved in terms of traffic impact."
Turner said that he has already met with Weinstein and Imperatore, Jr. regarding some logistical concerns the township may have.
"We want to make sure that it will be operated properly," Turner said. "NY Waterway always ran a top-notch facility and we want to keep it that way. That's why we're happy that NY Waterway will run the terminal. Now that the dollars are in place, everything should be fine."
However, Turner wanted to make sure that NY Waterway and Arcorp aren't about to receive any tax breaks or abatements simply because they have brokered a deal with a tax-free entity like NJ Transit.
"We made it very clear that we want a tax arrangement dollar for dollar as to the assessed value of the area," Turner said. "Whatever the taxes would be for NY Waterway, that's what we're expecting to receive. It will be treated as if it were any other property in the town."
Hudson-Bergen Light Rail service is currently serving 15 station stops in Bayonne and Jersey City. The system is scheduled to be extended from Newport to Hoboken Terminal in mid-2002. NJ Transit is preparing to begin construction this month on Hudson-Bergen Light Rail's second phase, which would include service to the Weehawken Ferry Terminal beginning in 2003.
"The good news with all of this," Turner says, "is that after all the doubters who said that the Light Rail would never come here, and there are people who still don't think it's coming, well this proves that it's here. This is great news for Weehawken."