American Dream Developer Offers Transit Plan, But No Funding

As northern New Jersey awaits a plan to deal with the heavy traffic expected from an influx of 55 million annual visitors to the American Dream Meadowlands megamall, the project’s developer, Triple Five Worldwide, recently revealed an outline of public transit improvements that could reduce automobile traffic. The catch? The developer hasn’t committed to paying for improvements.

The Plan: Bus Improvements

Under the terms of Triple Five’s plan, three local bus lines could be enhanced to provide service to the megamall project. The developer maintains that NJ Transit is committed to this expanded service. The plan identifies these lines as conduits for employees, not customers.

Triple Five has also indicated that it is in conversations with private operators about getting routes to Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, since, according to the plan, NJ Transit is prohibited from providing express service to the Meadowlands from that location. Whether or not the PABT is prepared for more buses is another question.

According to the plan, NJ Transit has also said it will “consider” creating new interstate/commuter express bus stops at American Dream, “contingent on providing appropriate accommodations for north- and southbound express bus stops on Rt120 adjacent to the [American Dream] site,” along with safe pedestrian paths at any new bus stops.  Depending upon the exact placement of the bus stops, the burden of making and maintaining bus stop safety infrastructure could fall on the shoulders of East Rutherford. Although the borough could apply for Safe Streets to Transit funding—which goes to projects that make walking to transit safer—support for the program has been spotty in recent years (though it was recently restored).

The Plan: Rail Improvements

While rail service from Secaucus to the Meadowlands only runs for special events at present, Triple Five claims that NJ Transit has agreed “in principle” to provide hourly train service from Secaucus to the Meadowlands from 9:00 am until close. An agreement “in principle” is far from a done deal.

The plan also states that NJ Transit is in the process of designing an upgrade to Secaucus’ Lautenberg Station so that Meadowlands-bound trains can increase their capacity by four cars, allowing more customers to get to the site on each train. Triple Five has not publicly agreed to pay for these station improvements.

The (non-) Plan: Funding

Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce President Jim Kirkos has said that it is NJ Transit’s “role to provide service as needed,” implying that the cash-strapped agency should foot the bill for service improvements. Unfortunately, public transportation funding levels in New Jersey are not adequate to cover expanded service to American Dream Meadowlands. Inadequate state support for public transportation has forced NJ Transit to raise fares in 2010, cut bus routes this year, and scale back fringe benefits for non-union employees to make ends meet. A better idea would be for the developer to contribute to transit operating costs, a common practice across the country (and within New Jersey).

The closest thing to developer support for operating expenses is a series of “Partnership Opportunities” with NJ Transit:

  • Bulk purchases of bus and rail passes to/from American Dream for promotions and customer programs;
  • Packaging NJ Transit with products and partners targeting tourists to make their visit easy and convenient;
  • American Dream advertising on NJ Transit bus, rail and light rail systems;
  • Mention of NJ Transit’s Meadowlands services in American Dream’s marketing campaigns and materials;
  • One-time capital contributions to provide amenities for transit customers, including possible new bus stops, heated waiting areas, real-time transit information and in-facility announcements and concierge services at American Dream for transit customers;
  • Contests and reward opportunities rewarding NJ Transit use;
  • NJ Transit employee family day outings at American Dream celebrating successes; and
  • NJ Transit employee discounts at American Dream attractions.

While these initiatives are welcome, they do not replace financial support for transit infrastructure and NJ Transit service.

The Bottom Line

In addition to being unfunded, the plan sketched out by Triple Five may not meet the site’s transit needs. Whereas Paramus’ Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall—which sees only 20 million annual visitors per year, less than half of Triple Five’s projected draw—has over 10 bus routes serving in its vicinity, the American Dream Meadowlands developer’s plan includes improvements to only three bus lines and relies upon hourly rail service that doesn’t yet exist.

Triple Five’s plan also makes no mention of developer contributions towards transit operating costs, which would be an extremely large, ongoing expense for NJ Transit. Suggesting transit improvements is a good first step for the site’s developers. The next one? Helping pay for them.

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