Developer Support for Public Transit Not Unprecedented

In the face of widespread public concern about American Dream Meadowlands’ traffic impacts, made more pointed by last week’s announcement that DreamWorks is teaming up with the site’s developer on a proposed amusement park addition, the project’s backers continue to insist that public transportation will help ease congestion. But in the midst of service cuts, NJ Transit is hardly in a position to increase service to the development, unless the site’s developer provides operating assistance to the agency. The gridlocked Bergen County site is already underserved by transit, with an irregularly running rail line and little to no bus service. If buses and trains are to help reduce the traffic brought by an estimated 55 million annual visitors, additional funding to pay for new routes and service expansion must be identified.

Fortunately, there is a way forward. In many instances, developers throughout the country have supported public transportation to make their sites more accessible. Even in New Jersey, these types of public-private partnerships already exist. The University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro has partnered with NJ Transit along with Princeton University and others to help support bus service to their facility. UPS also works with the agency to ensure that employees can access its facilities, helping purchase monthly passes for employees that utilize bus service. Perhaps most relevantly, the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park has contributed to the operating costs of NJ Transit’s #307 bus, which brings people there [a previous version of this article had this route listed as the 305—thanks to commenter ajedrez for spotting our error].

Developer or private sector support for transit is not unique to New Jersey. Around the country, private developers are stepping up to support transit:

  • Portland, Oregon—When Portland’s Oregon Health Sciences University needed to expand, strong community concern arose over the congestion that would come with a larger facility. To address this, OHSU and other area medical institutions entered into a partnership with the city and its transit agency to bring express bus service to the area—the group paid for 70 percent of the operating costs, while the transit agency picked up the rest of the tab [pdf].
  • Rochester, NY—The Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA), facing significant budgetary constraints in 2004, has since formed partnerships with a variety of institutions to continue service in lieu of a drastic system scaleback. Currently, the RGRTA has more than 50 public-private partnerships.
  • Orlando, Florida—In Orlando, Florida’s second-largest hospital made a one-off payment of almost $380,000 that went towards improvements on two transit routes serving the hospital. The hospital also has contributed $25,000 per year towards transit, helping employees and patients get to the facility [pdf].

Because the developer has failed to complete a comprehensive traffic study, it’s unclear what level of transit service will be needed at American Dream Meadowlands. However, a comparable development in the area—Paramus’ Westfield Garden State Mall—has at least 10 bus routes to serve its 20 million annual visitors. American Dream Meadowlands’ developer’s other properties also benefit from public transit: Minnesota’s Mall of America has 15 bus lines and 1 light rail station for its 40 million annual visitors, and the West Edmonton Mall has 27 bus lines to serve its 22 million annual visitors. Clearly, with existing service inadequate, public transportation to the American Dream Meadowlands site will have to be augmented.

In light of this clear need, the growing trend of public-private partnerships that support transit, and NJ Transit’s tight budget, Tri-State reiterates its call for the developer to fill the gap. Sustainable transportation advocates aren’t the only ones pushing, though: Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli and Carlstadt Mayor William Roseman have both signed resolutions calling for the project’s developer to help fund transit to the site.

Kathi Ko and Zoe Zetlin contributed to this article.

4 Comments on "Developer Support for Public Transit Not Unprecedented"

  1. Coco Pazzo | July 19, 2012 at 4:11 pm |

    Do you really expect the developer to contribute a significant portion of the mass transit costs? And given Gov. Christie’s attitude towards mass transit, much less spending on transportation, don’t expect much from the state. After all, he continues to raid the transit trust fund to “balance” his budget, instead of using those funds for projects just like this.
    Meanwhile, New Jersey also enjoys the lowest gas tax in the country, so we continue to subsidize individual cars while ignoring mass transit.
    Dream on.

  2. Rob Durchola | July 19, 2012 at 9:13 pm |

    Under the original “Xanadu” proposal, the developer made no provision for an on-site bus terminal, just a stop along the highway. The developer also assumed that NJ Transit would run frequent rail service on the Meadowlands rail spur to serve the development.

    Let’s hope that the new developer, seeing the benefits of public transit at the Mall of America (where the transit terminal is under a parking deck and a short escalator ride to a mall entrance), works with NJ Transit both to subsidize rail and bus service and to provide a good on-site location for a bus stop (good = operational sound for NJ Transit and close to an entrance for bus patrons.)

    The danger: Since Gov. Christie is so supportive of American Dream, he orders NJ Transit to provide additional bus and rail service to the development without increasing funding to the agency.

  3. Do the math. According to its website, the project has 1.75 million sq. ft of retail space. Assuming average sales of $300 per sq. ft. and a 7% NJ sales tax, then there should be an additional $36 million in tax revenue per year. Surely some of that could be earmarked for public transit.

  4. Just pointing it out, but there’s no #305 that stops at Six Flags. There’s the #307 (Freehold-Six Flags), #308 (NY/Newark-Six Flags), and the #318 (Philadelphia/Camden-Six Flags).

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