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Major Upgrades On Tap For Northeast Corridor

Posted: 5/9/2022 4:26:11 PM

The Northeast Corridor (NEC) could soon be getting much needed upgrades thanks to the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), according to Mitch Warren, executive director of the  Northeast Corridor Commission.

“It’s a busy, important and complex corridor and all those trains are operating over aging infrastructure; bridges and tunnels that are over 100 years old,” Warren told the NJTPA Board of Trustees during a presentation at its May 9 meeting. “There hasn’t been a significant investment in the corridor in most of our lifetimes.”

Warren outlined Connect NEC 2035 – The Future of the Northeast Corridor (C35), a 15-year service development plan and infrastructure planning process for the NEC, a 457-mile route between Boston and Washington, D.C. The corridor carries more than 800,000 primarily commuter passengers a day and 2,000 commuter, intercity and freight trains operated by nine different agencies, he said.

While C35 was developed before IIJA was developed, Warren called the timing “fortunate” because it presents an unconstrained list of projects and workforce needs that the commission can now seek funding for.

He said the plan will be updated so that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has the latest information available to create its project inventory and award grants.

Within the New York City Metro Territory, the 274-page plan identifies $55 billion in infrastructure improvements over 15 years, including at least a half-dozen projects that will impact the NJTPA region:

  • Penn Reconstruction and Gateway Penn Station Expansion reconstructs existing Penn Station New York to transform the outdated and over-capacity station, relieve overcrowding and be part of an integrated complex with Moynihan Train Hall and Penn Expansion. Expansion provides additional track and platform capacity to support growth in rail service, possible with the new Gateway Hudson Tunnels.
  • Gateway Hudson Tunnel constructs a new two-track tunnel beneath the Hudson River and rehabilitates and modernizes the existing two-track North River Tunnel.
  • Gateway Sawtooth Bridge replaces a pair of railroad bridges between Newark and Secaucus, N.J., in the Meadowlands with new structures to support a four-track segment with improved track speeds.
  • Hunter Flyover constructs a flyover south of Newark Penn Station to eliminate at-grade crossings to reduce conflict between trains, increasing capacity for NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak, enabling NJ TRANSIT to improve Raritan Valley Line service.
  • Mid-Line Loop eliminates at-grade movements that create conflicts, increasing capacity, and improving reliability. This would enable the New Jersey High-Speed Rail Program’s goal of 160 MPH speeds on Acela and support enhanced NJ TRANSIT service.
  • Gateway Secaucus Station and Loop Tracks expand the Secaucus Station platform system and add loops at Secaucus Junction. This will allow a one-seat ride to Manhattan from New Jersey’s Hudson and Bergen counties and New York’s Rockland and Orange counties via Metro-North service operated by NJ TRANSIT.
The Northeast Corridor Commission, which was created by Congress, allocates some $1.3 billion a year in shared operating and normalized replacement capital costs that helped create some stability to the corridor’s funding levels, according to Warren. The 18-member commission includes a representative from each of nine states, and nine more representing Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation, bringing together the states and federal government in a collaborative partnership. New Jersey’s representative is Kevin Corbett, CEO and President of NJ TRANSIT.

“It was important to our members who are investing more in the corridor that the federal government also step up and invest more,” he said noting that states alone can’t afford the significant improvements needed. “Fortunately with the infrastructure bill … we now do have a great partnership on its way with the federal government.”

The biggest challenge has always been money, but significant limitations also include the workforce and getting track time, Warren said, noting, “It’s such a busy corridor.”

While ridership is down, most agencies are close to pre-pandemic service levels, so most of the movement is back. Warren said even if there was unlimited funding, improvements would be constrained by the ability to take tracks out of service to make repairs. C35 presents a plan for getting the “maximum productivity out of each track outage.”

Infrastructure issues, such as failures of track and communications and signals systems, are consistently the main cause of delays on the NEC. “It’s not going to be fixed overnight, it’s going to take years,” Warren said. “As we replace these aging bridges and tunnels, as we renew the track infrastructure to modernize signal systems, the electric catenary system, we’re going to see significant reliability improvements.”

He said planning work will help minimize the short-term pain caused by taking track offline to make these repairs.

While he said Congress has provided more consistent funding over the past decade, historically Amtrak was on the brink of bankruptcy. He called the passage of the IIJA last year a game changer. “It’s not enough for everything that needs to be done in the next 15 years but it’s an important start."

Equity Resources website and tool aims to better meet needs of the diverse region

Posted: 4/29/2022 10:10:59 AM

The NJTPA has launched an Equity Resources website to provide data, guidance and tools to help improve participation by minority, low income and traditionally underserved communities in the transportation planning work conducted and funded by the NJTPA. 

The NJTPA requires public engagement and outreach, with a focus on underserved communities, for studies and planning efforts it funds, including those conducted by member subregions – the 13 counties and two cities represented on the NJTPA Board.

The website provides guidance for these efforts. It includes an Equity Analysis tool, which maps areas of traditionally underserved populations using federal data and an Equity Assessment guide that provides detailed ifor identifying populations that have been traditionally underrepresented in the planning process.

The website is being launched as a beta version and the NJTPA welcomes input and comment on its content and usefulness. The website will be presented and discussed at the Planning Tools Expo on May 19, 2022.
This resource supports the NJTPA’s commitment to ensuring that everyone in its region has access to participate in its projects and programs, and that its activities comply with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other federal non-discrimination policies and statues.

Port Growth Spurs Good Jobs and Redevelopment Plans

Posted: 4/22/2022 1:36:35 PM

The port serving New Jersey and New York continues its strong growth, driven by new consumer spending patterns and prompting new hiring and redevelopment plans in the City of Newark. Members of the NJTPA Freight Initiatives Committee heard about the growth and its impacts at their April 18 meeting. 

Committee Chair Jason Sarnoski, Warren County Commissioner, introduced speakers for the annual port and maritime update, noting that the port is a “leading economic engine for the region and the nation.”

Sam Ruda, Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Port Department, said container traffic at the port is 8 to 10 percent above the record levels seen in 2021 and continues to grow. The growth, he said, was driven by “a massive change in personal consumption” favoring goods over services, a trend that accelerated as people ordered online during the pandemic.

At the same time, he said, shippers facing congestion, backlogs and labor issues at West Coast ports are shifting an increasing share of commerce to New York-New Jersey and other, smaller East Coast ports.

As a result, he said, “terminals are operating at full or near full capacity,” running ahead of planned-for levels by six or seven years. At the same time the port faces shortages of truck drivers and chassis and other constraints requiring “complex fixes.” Improvements will be needed to sustain this growth, such as deepening channels from 50 to 55 feet, he said.

The growth has spurred a strong demand for workers, according to John Nardi, President of the New York Shipping Association. The port employs over 3,500 longshoremen and other workers. They were deemed essential workers early in the pandemic, and operations were disrupted as hundreds of workers were idled by the virus, despite efforts to put in place protections.

As operations continued under pandemic-related challenges, Nardi said the port faced a “tidal wave of freight,” requiring the hiring of more workers. But he notes the Port of New York and New Jersey requires thorough background checks before workers can be hired. That check is conducted by the Waterfront Commission, which was jointly established by New York and New Jersey to combat port corruption in the 1950s. Once workers gain experience, they often can earn $150,000 or more a year, he said.

In addition to 581 workers hired from 2018 to mid-2020, the Shipping Association got Commission approval last August to hire 200 additional workers and just initiated requests for nearly 300 more. In addition to helping meet growing freight demand, the hires help replace retiring workers. Due to the nature of work and conditions on the docks, he notes, “it’s a young person’s job.”

The State of New Jersey, he said, is seeking to withdraw from the Waterfront Commission and turn its functions over to the State Police which would speed the hiring process. However, New York is bringing a case challenging the withdrawal to the Supreme Court, which he said presents “interesting” legal issues about bi-state compacts.

Meanwhile, his association is cooperating with the Council on Port Performance to conduct outreach to potential workers and communities in Newark, Elizabeth and surrounding areas.

Facilitating access to port jobs is one of the motivations for a new redevelopment effort, called Forward-Bound Doremus, in the City of Newark, according to Christopher A. Watson, the City’s Planning Officer.

Watson said the effort focuses on five districts adjacent to Doremus Avenue, which runs from the port to industrial and warehousing areas along the Passaic River. The districts include residential areas in the Ironbound.

Among the objectives of the project are to make the corridor a primary employment center for the community, create comprehensive regulations governing development, promote environmental justice and resiliency and strengthen transportation connections for people and goods.

He noted that 9 percent of jobs in Newark are in this area, some of them among the highest paying in the City. However, he said, area residents need better access to the jobs, including programs to close the “skills gap” that hampers their employment.

He said the project seeks to cultivate a “reciprocal relationship” that would link port businesses to local neighborhoods and nearby commercial activities. At the same time, the redevelopment efforts would attract new port-related businesses, including distribution facilities engaged in last-mile deliveries for e-commerce.

Redevelopment, he said, must help address environmental concerns, including flooding in the area. This could include “green” approaches such as permeable pavements for parking lots and using parks to mitigate flood impacts. An assessment of needed changes to zoning and other regulations will help realize these and other objectives, he said.

A recording of the presentations at the Freight Initiatives Committee meeting is here.


Seven Municipalities Selected for Complete Streets Assistance

Posted: 4/22/2022 8:35:16 AM

Seven municipalities will receive technical assistance for complete streets projects ranging from workshops on walkability to bicycle network plans, conceptual designs and complete streets policies, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) announced today. The municipalities selected through the competitive application process are:

  • Bergen County: Oakland Borough – Complete and Green Streets for All Policy
  • Essex County: Belleville Township – Temporary Demonstration Project Guidance
  • Middlesex County: Dunellen Borough - Complete and Green Streets for All Policy
  • Ocean County: Seaside Heights Borough – Walkable Community Workshop
  • Passaic County: City of Passaic – Complete Streets Conceptual Renderings
  • Somerset County: Bound Brook Borough – Walkable Community Workshop
  • Union County: City of Plainfield – Bicycle Corridor or Network Plan
“Complete streets are not only safer, especially for walkers and bicyclists, but they’re also a part of a healthy, equitable community where residents and visitors have options for how to get around,” said NJTPA Chair John W. Bartlett, a Passaic County Commissioner. “This program will help these municipalities move their complete streets visions closer to reality.”
Sustainable Jersey and the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University provide the technical assistance, which the NJTPA funds with federal transportation dollars. Since every municipality has different needs, the program provides technical assistance to help advance complete streets by documenting existing conditions, exploring potential improvements and providing recommendations. Each municipality selected the type of preferred assistance when applying to the program. This includes:
  • Bicycle Corridor or Network Plan: To help identifying specific routes and road treatments to improve bicycling infrastructure
  • Complete Streets Conceptual Rendering: To prepare graphic renderings to help visualize potential improvements to streetscapes or public spaces
  • Temporary Demonstration Project Guidance: To provide guidance on the design and installation of pedestrian safety or bicycle infrastructure temporary safety measures
  • Walkable Community Workshop: A workshop and audit of up to a half-mile of street to identify potential pedestrian and bicycle improvements
  • Complete and Green Streets for All Guidance: Assistance in the development of a complete streets policy or the update of an existing policy to align with the 2020 New Jersey Department of Transportation Complete and Green Streets for All Policy
“It is valuable for municipalities to receive hands-on guidance to move their complete streets projects forward. Complete and green streets have numerous safety, environmental, equity and health benefits,” said Randall Solomon, executive director of Sustainable Jersey. “This work is an important element in the comprehensive sustainability programs of our communities and contributes to our mission to create a more sustainable New Jersey.”
Complete streets are designed for all users, all modes of transportation and all ability levels. They balance the needs of drivers, people walking and biking, transit riders, emergency responders and goods movement, based on local context.
Improving safety is also a key goal of this program. “Roadway fatalities across New Jersey and the nation have been increasing, especially among people walking and bicycling. We are thrilled to assist communities with complete streets projects that will provide recommendations on making their roadways safer,” said Jon A. Carnegie, Executive Director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center.
This is the third time the NJTPA is offering technical assistance to municipalities in its region. Eight projects were completed in 2020 and nine projects were completed in 2019. The final reports are available on our complete streets webpage.

Municipalities Encouraged to Apply for Transportation, Land Use Planning Grants

Posted: 4/21/2022 12:08:05 PM

A group of a people walks on a temporary crosswalk that was created as part of a demonstration project in Keyport to improve access to the Henry Hudson Trail.We’re accepting applications for our Fiscal Year 2022 Planning for Emerging Centers Program! The deadline to apply is May 16 at 4 pm.

This competitive program provides free technical assistance to help a municipality or group of municipalities with planning studies that advance sustainable transportation and land use planning. This can include planning for development around a transit station, integrated land use/mobility or complete streets implementation. Complete streets are roads designed for users of all ability levels and all travel modes. They balance the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, transit riders, emergency responders and goods movement.

We hosted an informational session on April 6, the presentation and question and answer document are available here.

Municipalities are required to dedicate in-kind staff time for public and stakeholder outreach, project management, data collection, supplies related to demonstration projects (if applicable), and other tasks as necessary for successful completion of projects. This staff time commitment should be reflected in proposals. No financial match is required.

Past efforts completed through this program include:

  • Borough of Raritan Sustainable Economic Development Plan: This project resulted in the creation of the Downtown Raritan Vision Plan and an Implementation Toolbox. The Plan is a 10-year economic, land-use and multi-modal vision for Downtown Raritan. The Implementation Toolbox will help guide the Borough and partners in implementing the Vision Plan.

  • Borough of Keyport Complete Streets and Implementation Plan: This study created a complete streets ordinance, which upon adoption would prioritize implementing complete streets in all design, planning, construction and maintenance projects. This project also created a Complete Streets Design Guide and Complete Streets Implementation Guide to help identify priority locations and potential improvements.

  • Town of Boonton Transit Village Initiative Planning:  The Town of Boonton sought technical assistance to undertake planning efforts that would sharpen its focus on achieving Transit Village designation by NJDOT for the area surrounding the Boonton train station.

Click here for more information about the FY 2022 Planning for Emerging Centers Program solicitation.

Commissioner Bartlett Highlights Priorities for Term as NJTPA Chair

Posted: 3/22/2022 9:40:28 AM

Passaic County Commissioner John BartlettPassaic County Commissioner John W. Bartlett told fellow Board members that as NJTPA Chair, one of his top priorities will be working with them to seek grant funding available under the new federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“As members of this Board, we can make sure these funds are used responsibly and equitably to address critical transportation needs,” he said at the March 14 Board of Trustees meeting.
The Board elected a new Executive Committee, including naming Commissioner Bartlett Chair, at its January meeting.
Chairman Bartlett noted that the NJTPA is available as a resource to local governments applying for competitive federal grants and can help with data, coordinating regional projects and writing letters of support. He added that tying local projects to larger regional needs, like those identified in Plan 2050, the NJTPA’s Long Range Transportation Plan, will help strengthen applications.
“Plan 2050 emphasizes how transportation connects people to opportunity,” he said. “Transportation does more than get people from one place to another. It creates economic opportunity by helping our region attract and retain employers. It moves goods in and around our region and our state. New technologies, like alternate fuels, and greener building practices, also help create a healthier environment.”
He added that investments should focus on ensuring the transportation network is safe for travelers of all ages and abilities.
Another area Chairman Bartlett plans to focus on is raising the profile of the NJTPA to ensure the public is aware of its work and encouraged to get involved.
“The NJTPA has been a leader on public engagement, and I hope we can continue to build on these efforts,” he said. “This includes better explaining our role and our work to residents, but also engaging them in NJTPA projects and programs.”


NJTPA Board Funds Four Studies to Explore Improving County Roads, Bridge

Posted: 3/14/2022 11:58:38 AM

The Lenape Island Road Bridge over Indian Lake, also known as Lenape Trail, in Denville Township.The NJTPA Board of Trustees approved $3.8 million in grants to four counties today for studies that will explore ways to improve county roads and bridges.

The studies being funded through the Fiscal Year 2023 Local Concept Development Program include:

Click the links above for additional information on each project.

The projects are anticipated to kick off in September.

The Local Capital Project Delivery Program awards grants to NJTPA member counties and cities to investigate all aspects of a project, including environmental, right of way access, design, and feasibility issues.

Local Concept Development is the first phase of the Local Capital Project Delivery Program, which guides projects from initial concepts all the way to construction. During the initial phase, the County will identify and compare reasonable alternatives and strategies and select a preferred alternative to advance to the next phase, Preliminary Engineering. Projects that complete this initial investigative work may be eligible for eventual construction with federal funds. More information on the program can be found at www.njtpa.org/lcpd.

Major Freight Rail Investments Support Booming Port

Posted: 3/1/2022 8:34:19 AM

The Point-No-Point Bridge (foreground) and Pulaski Skyway (background)A series of major freight rail projects will greatly improve the speed and efficiency of moving containers by rail to and from the region’s port facilities, according to presentations at the NJTPA’s February 22 Freight Initiatives Committee meeting. Those facilities, including the port complex in Newark and Elizabeth and Global Container Terminals in Bayonne, are handling record container volumes even as other U.S. ports suffer delays and congestion.

Ryan Hill, Chief Engineer of Design and Construction at Conrail, said the company is completing the final signal work on the Waverly Loop project, which is allowing trains moving north to bypass the Oak Island Rail Yard. Trains previously had to enter the yard before proceeding. He said constructing the loop project was challenging, including the need to build two new bridges in an area that is largely swamp.

Conrail, he said, is also awaiting bids to commence replacement of the Point-No-Point Bridge which is used by freight trains traveling between Newark and Kearney over the Passaic River. The new moveable swing bridge will replace the deteriorating existing structure, which dates back to 1901.

Preparation of the project over the last five years required “a lot of negotiations, coordination and plan review” among CSX Railroad, Amtrak, NJ TRANSIT and PATH, among others, along with extensive real estate purchases, Hill said. It is expected to take three years to complete.

The bridge replacement and Wavery Loop projects, he said, represent the largest rail improvements undertaken by Conrail since 1999 when it took over operation of the shared rail assets of CSX and Norfolk Southern in the port area, after the larger Conrail system was disbanded. The projects will take advantage of additional track capacity added in the past year to the main freight line in Kearney.

Another major freight rail project taking shape would create a southerly connection from the Express Rail facility in Port Elizabeth to the national rail system. Currently at the preliminary stages, the project is a partnership between Conrail and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Cory Wyatt, Manager of Intermodal Rail Development at the Port Authority. Currently CSX and Norfolk Southern trains must head north into Newark to connect with southbound tracks, creating “a huge need” for a direct southerly connection, said Wyatt.

The project will help improve a key part of the ExpressRail system which operates at six port facilities in New York and New Jersey, allowing containers to be loaded directly on rail cars at the ports rather than being trucked to rail yards first. He said the system is only at half capacity, with room to accommodate continuing growth of port traffic. Also at the meeting, Chris Lamm, Principal at Cambridge Systematics, presented on NJTPA’s Freight Rail Grade Crossing Assessment Update; and Scott Parker, Senior Project Manager at Jacobs Engineering presented on NJTPA’s Freight Concept Development Program studies. A recording of the meeting and presentation slides are here.

PHOTO BY: Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Somerset County Honors NJTPA-Funded Study with Excellence in Planning Award

Posted: 1/27/2022 3:03:27 PM

Cover of the Downtown Raritan Vision Plan showing an illustration with people playing games on a street that has been closed to traffic.Somerset County’s Office of Planning, Policy, and Economic Development gave an Excellence in Planning Award to the Borough of Raritan, NJTPA and consultant FHI Studios for the Raritan Sustainable Economic Development Plan.

The Somerset County Planning Board announced the 2021 Land Development and Planning Awards this week. The Raritan study was among four projects that were recognized.

“We hope the public recognition of these projects will inspire residents and local leaders to support eco-friendly and sound land development and planning,” said Somerset County Commissioner Deputy Director Melonie Marano in a statement. “With efficient and sustainable land development we can continue to advance an eco-friendly infrastructure, optimize our land use for future land preservation, and save money when we have efficient and sustainable communities.”

The plan, completed in June 2021, was funded through the NJTPA’s Planning for Emerging Centers Program, which provides technical assistance to help municipalities create more sustainable, transit-supportive and walkable communities, as well as develop comprehensive approaches to strategic planning at the local level.

The Borough of Raritan sought assistance with creating a plan to help maintain and expand existing downtown employment and economic activity. The plan resulted in the creation of three documents:

  • Downtown Raritan Vision Plan, which presents a people-centered approach to economic development, with the goal of advancing projects that support both existing and new residents.
  • Downtown Redevelopment Plan, a regulatory framework to help implement the Vision Plan.
  • Implementation Toolbox, action items and steps to help guide the Borough and its partners in implementing the Vision Plan.

The Planning for Emerging Centers Program will be accepting applications for the next round of funding shortly. Information about the solicitation will be posted at njtpa.org/PEC.

Electric Vehicle Market in New Jersey Gaining Support and Attracting Buyers

Posted: 1/20/2022 10:05:59 AM

electric car charging in Newark NJFor potential electric car buyers, 2022 could be an “exciting year,” with new vehicles providing “lots of variety and choices” and new laws expanding incentives and making charging more convenient, according to Pamela Frank, CEO, ChargEVC-NJ, who briefed the NJTPA Board at its January meeting.

Frank said the non-profit ChargEVC-NJ was formed in 2016 to include a “chorus” of electric vehicle stakeholders—car buyers, environmentalists, manufacturers and auto dealerships—seeking to advance the market for the vehicles. At the time, the market in the state was relatively weak, with few buying incentives or other support programs.

The market, she said, got a big boost in 2020 with the enactment of new state laws. In addition to buying incentives, state law now supports the creation of a statewide network of public charging stations. The goal is to have public fast chargers available every 25-30 miles along the 42 roadways in the state that carry 80 percent of miles driven, she said

Most recently, she noted, the state has adopted California goals for clean trucks, which will support increasing numbers of electric trucks operating in New Jersey each year. At the same time, the new federal infrastructure law expands tax credits by thousands of dollars for vehicle purchases and supports nationwide charging infrastructure.

Car makers, meanwhile, are investing billions in factories, batteries and vehicle designs. “Seems like every week there’s another announcement” of a new electric vehicle model being brought to market, she said. “And it’s continuing.”

Consumer demand is growing too she said, though she said it may take a few months to address supply chain issues which now limit vehicle availability in the state. She said electric vehicle purchases often occur in clusters, driven by local social networks. “Once one neighbor gets one, the whole neighborhood starts to pick up on this,” she said.

The vehicles are an increasingly a practical choice, she said, with a number of charging options including at-home garage charging and public fast charging depots, where typically it takes 20 minutes to achieve an 80 percent vehicle charge. She noted that this is more than adequate since most trips are less than 40 miles and battery range is often around 300 miles.

She urged the county representatives to consider electric vehicles for their fleets and to assist municipalities in adopting them. Cost savings are one important reason. In her own case, she said a conventional vehicle would cost her about $10,000 a year to fuel. In contrast, her battery electric vehicle charged overnight in her garage costs only $800 per year.

She said county and local governments should begin now to plan electric vehicle adoption to they can “leverage some really attractive incentives that we expect in the market.” The presentation can be viewed on YouTube.

NJTPA has compiled electric vehicle resources to assist municipalities and counties with implementation. They can be viewed at njtpa.org/ev.