Slow going on plans for N.J. transportation projects

Posted: October 03, 2013

In December 2009, NJ Transit announced four major advancements in transportation for South Jersey, with an initial cost of $13.5 million.

Nearly four years later, none of the projects has moved beyond the study phase:

  Planners have spent the four years and $735,000 studying how to improve rail service on the Atlantic City Line, with nothing to show for their efforts yet.

By contrast, it took only 90 days to build the Philadelphia & Atlantic City Railway in the first place, back in 1877.

In 2009, NJ Transit said it would build a $3 million bus-loading center in downtown Camden, to be completed in mid-2012.

So far, nothing.

Plans for an 18-mile light-rail line between Glassboro and Camden were delayed when Gov. Christie objected in 2010 to a no-bid $8.9 million contract from the Delaware River Port Authority for an environmental impact study. Now, with an $8.1 million contract awarded to the same engineering firm, the study is supposed to be done by next fall.

But no operator has been selected, and no source has been found for $1.6 billion to build the line, currently proposed to start operating in 2019.

A plan for a $46 million "bus rapid transit" route in South Jersey is in the midst of an $839,500 environmental impact study, after a $750,000 alternative routes study.

The environmental study is supposed to be done next spring. If the project is funded, the current plan calls for construction to start in mid-2014 and the bus routes to be in full operation by 2020.

NJ Transit spokesman William Smith said the completion of a $735,000 Atlantic City Line study by LTK Engineering Services of New York, approved in December 2009, was delayed because the state's priorities shifted after Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012 "to focus on restoration of service and system resiliency going forward."

Now, the Atlantic City Line report is expected to be released in early to mid-2014, Smith said.

Planners are looking at the feasibility of adding stops at the Woodcrest PATCO station and the Atlantic City airport, and restoring a second set of tracks for part of the route.

"This is a major study that involves multiple modes of transportation across the entire region of southern New Jersey," Smith said. "In reality, completing such a large endeavor, with statistical projections, environmental issues, and compliance regulations can take a significant period of time."

The 2009 plan for a new $3 million bus-loading center at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden called for a canopy, better lighting, closed-circuit cameras, a public address system, and new signs, as well as repaving and streetscape improvements on Broadway.

The DRPA agreed in January 2010 to provide the $3 million for the makeover, and NJ Transit engineers said at the time that construction would start in late 2010 or early 2011 and be completed by mid-2012.

But nothing was built, and the money remains with the DRPA.

The project "is currently on hold," Smith said, "due to ongoing discussions with local stakeholders about a more comprehensive approach to the redevelopment of the area" around the transportation center.

Much of that conversation involves the prospect of turning the existing transportation center into a grander "signature station" to serve a proposed light-rail line from Gloucester County as well as the existing NJT buses and PATCO trains, said Jeffrey Nash, Camden County freeholder and vice chairman of the DRPA.

Local officials are trying to figure out "what does a solution look like and what does it cost?" said Anthony Perno, chief executive of Cooper's Ferry Partnership, a nonprofit real estate development corporation in Camden.

A comprehensive remake of Walter Rand would require more than the $3 million approved by the DRPA in 2010, he said.

"The first step is to decide where the new light rail line cuts through Camden," Nash said.

That decision connects to one of the other two projects touted by NJT back in 2009: the $1.6 billion proposal for a Glassboro-Camden Line to restore passenger rail service to towns along tracks that are now used only for freight trains.

The light-rail trains likely would be similar to those operating on the River Line between Camden and Trenton.

Preliminary plans call for trains running every 71/2 minutes during rush hours and every 15 minutes during nonpeak times. As many as 18,000 daily riders are predicted by 2030.

Currently, an environmental study is underway by STV Inc. to examine impacts of noise and vibration, air pollution, social and economic changes, and historic preservation efforts, as well as the estimated costs to build and operate the rail line.

A draft version of that study is supposed to be completed by early spring of 2014, with a final report expected by fall of 2014, according to STV officials.

If approved by the Federal Transit Administration, the environmental impact statement would serve as a blueprint for design and construction of the line, with construction starting in 2016 and operations beginning in the second quarter of 2019.

But financing remains elusive for the rail line.

The DRPA has said it will not pay to build or operate the line, and NJ Transit has not committed itself to paying for it, either.

The light-rail line would run alongside a Conrail freight line through Glassboro, Pitman, Mantua, Wenonah, Woodbury, Deptford, West Deptford, Westville, Bellmawr, Brooklawn, Gloucester City, and Camden.

The fourth NJT project is a $46 million "bus rapid transit" plan to speed bus travel between Gloucester and Camden Counties and Philadelphia.

The plan envisions rush-hour buses traveling in dedicated lanes, on highway shoulders and medians, on a 23-mile main route north from Avandale, in Winslow Township, with a branch that would take riders from Deptford along Route 55 to join the main line at its merger with Route 42.

The NJ Transit board in February approved an $839,500 contract with engineering firm AECOM Technical Services Inc. of Newark for an environmental study of the route. That follows the completion of a $750,000 study of possible routes.

The rapid-bus service could be in full operation by 2020, with some parts phased in before that. Construction is supposed to begin in mid-2014.


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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