The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail has been an ambitious ongoing multi-county project in New Jersey, now serving Northern New Jersey residents with transportation that is both reliable, and cost-effective. Operations began in the year 2000, and the system has expanded slowly over time, now serving 54,000 passengers daily.
Presently, the branch follows the old rail trunk lines of the NJ Transit and freight trains that once veered South, then West, over the Newark Bay Bridge, which was dismantled in the ’80s, and ended up in Elizabeth, just south of where the AMC Jersey Gardens Plaza sits now. The Bayonne Light Rail now begins its northward route at 8th Street, and this line has been open since 2011.
Incidentally, this last station is right over the Bayonne Bridge, and extending the tracks with hangers on the outside of the Bayonne Bridge should have been done with the deck rebuild, while traffic disruptions were already commonplace. Of course that’s one thing no one wants to deal with again for even a short while; traffic is all-too-well known to Islanders.
In 2008, a 58.4 million dollar contract enabled the Light Rail to extend southward from 34th Street to 8th Street in Bayonne. The Staten Island Expressway had its entrances and exits shuffled around somewhat, with new concrete sound barriers planted firmly along a good stretch of its length, for only $75 million. These are fairly similarly-priced projects, and so the Staten Island side of the Light Rail, running along the West side of MLK Expressway to CSI, should not be of a cost so far from these figures.
This would enable CSI students to easily get to New Jersey without driving, and can help even city residents not living on Staten Island, to get home at the end of the day from university, with greater ease, in less time. And Staten Islanders working in New Jersey or “the city” would have even more transportation options in this “Transportation Desert” that we call home, Staten Island.
Proposals of an aerial gondola require that the passenger disembark multiple times before even reaching the Jersey City or Hoboken Ferries. That means, a bus to the gondola, a gondola to the Light Rail, the Light Rail to the Ferry or PATH trains, and the Ferry to the NYC subway or LIRR.
A single Light Rail ride from the gates of CSI, directly to PATH or the ferries, without the need to disembark and reembark so many times is more efficient and makes more sense as a viable transportation option. Staten Island is isolated from the rest of the city and New Jersey, and a short length of track, signals, a few stations, and a crossing over the Bridge, and that’s all history.
Of course, the newly rebuilt Bayonne Bridge hasn’t even been totally completed as of yet, and so the likelihood is, that no one is going to want to deal with more traffic, more delays, more bridge closures, while the project is undertaken. And, furthermore, the idea of such a Light Rail raises questions over how it would be managed, and more importantly, by whom. Should it be NYC? Port Authority? NJ? Hudson County?
Let’s not worry; it’s not going to happen any time soon. We sort of missed the opportunity, really, and so now it’s just a matter of imagining what life would be like had the Light Rail extension been included in the initial redesign of the bridge. What if…we’ll just never know.
Since we’re just imagining, why not think big? The Light Rail could extend along the western edge of the CSI campus and emerge from the woodlands in Bulls Head, or cut down Victory Blvd., heading south at Richmond Avenue, in either case. There could be a Forest Avenue extension that heads west, then veers south at South Avenue.
All new spurs, whether through woodlands, or on a major street, could be elevated quite high into the air with single heavy pillars, as has been done elsewhere with rails, to keep the footprint of the light rail right-of-way the smallest that it can possibly be, permitting placement even in relatively narrow center medians of existing thoroughfares.
Eventually, this light rail could go all the way to the Mall. It’s really up to us, the residents of Staten Island. What kind of future do we want, in terms of transportation? Is it going to be viable? These are the questions we must ask ourselves, and ask of future city planners, when we think about how we will get around.
But there is one way this can be done, even still, and furthermore, without great cost. Placing one set of Light Rail tracks right onto the road deck of the bridge would eliminate a good amount of the cost of adding hangers to the bridge, and new approaches just to hold up the light rail tracks.
As is the case on certain roads in New Jersey, the lane could even be shared by the light rail and motor vehicles. Or, we could consider permanently sacrificing one Staten Island-bound lane for one dedicated set of tracks.
Alternatively, the lane could display a red light when Light Rail cars are using the span, allowing both cars and light rail to share the road.
And, having the one set of tracks shared by inbound and outbound light rail traffic, would require less than half of what two sets of tracks, placed side-by-side on the existing roadbed, would require. Of course, there’s always the option of keeping things as they are, and no sharing of the new roadway would have to be considered, but then we lose an easy, cost-effective, light rail option.
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