Montclair Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis called on Governor Murphy Monday to take swift action to support the proposed Essex Hudson Greenway which he classified as being on life support and in danger of being divided up and sold off in pieces. Yacobellis had previously advocated for the Greenway in his town hall meeting.
Yacobellis’ open letter to the Governor can be read here:
Dear Governor Murphy,
Traditional vehicular infrastructure simply cannot keep up with the development and growth we’re seeing in places like Montclair and points east. I believe we must unlock other opportunities to support safe mobility and commerce. A linear walk/bike-pathed park from Jersey City to Montclair would do wonders for our town, channeling people, and by extension commerce, from population centers to our east to our downtown businesses, creating jobs and economic opportunity.
I am writing to urge you to take the lead in making the Essex-Hudson Greenway a reality. Your immediate support is critical as this project is facing a deadline which will end the possibility of bringing this essential infrastructure project to the people of New Jersey. In my view, that would be a tragedy and a colossal, missed opportunity.
Without quick action on your part, I believe Norfolk Southern will run down the clock of this current agreement, and then swiftly move to sell the line in pieces. Indeed, it is my understanding that there are already offers on the table. What they cannot sell, will simply fall into further neglect. In the areas along the line that already are impacted by DEP Violations, this would represent a setback in righting long standing environmental justice concerns in these underserved neighborhoods.
As mentioned, the Greenway would create off-road connectivity through some of the most populated communities in northern New Jersey. And it would provide new, valuable park land in several underserved communities in Essex and Hudson Counties, including right here in Montclair. By providing alternate transportation options for biking and walking, the Greenway presents the perfect opportunity to aid in our state’s transition toward more sustainable transportation, reducing air pollution and helping us reach our climate goals while encouraging more exercise. With transportation making up 41% of our greenhouse gas emissions, providing safe alternative transportation options are the key to reaching the state’s goal of 80% carbon emissions reduction by 2050.
In addition to the open space and transportation benefits, this project will connect communities, including many communities of color, divided by infrastructure projects of the past especially our overburdened communities while helping mitigate damaging flooding in the region. These are precisely the things Secretary Buttigieg, Vice President Harris and President Biden are talking about when discussing infrastructure. Critical stormwater infrastructure is also envisioned for the project, which will reduce sewage overflow and alleviate environmental strain on some of the area’s most vulnerable communities; an issue all the more important as climate change spurs stronger and more frequent weather events. Many of our communities are already looking to the line as an ideal location to incorporate state-of-the-art “green infrastructure” in the project’s construction as part of the solution, helping to mitigate the challenges many communities along the line face with stormwater during heavy rains – especially the resulting overwhelm of municipal sewer systems.
As mentioned, the project is also expected support job growth in the community and particularly in Montclair by creating easy access to our performing arts, shopping and dining hub for anyone coming off of the Greenway. Simply put, it would be a boon for visitation to Montclair. Based on similar projects in the region we expect that the direct economic impact from the construction would be about $26M, and the indirect economic benefits would add another $19M in addition to approximately 270 jobs.
While the purchase agreement in place is the closest the project has ever come to fruition, at stake right now is the project’s long-term funding plan. Funds are currently being held at the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank (I-Bank) for a $155 million low-interest loan to finance the project, $65 million for purchase and $90 million for site development.
Under the current funding strategy, funds generated through the Realty Transfer Fund (RTF) that had been used for land protection under the sunsetting Highlands Act, would be redirected to repay the loan for the Essex-Hudson Greenway. If you do not indicate your willingness to move forward with the I-Bank loan by July, the funds will be reallocated to other projects and the RTF will be absorbed to the general fund essentially closing the potential.
I urge you to do everything you can to ensure we do not lose this incredible opportunity to create the Essex Hudson Greenway and bring its numerous benefits to the citizens of Montclair and New Jersey. Your visionary support for this once-in-a-lifetime project is crucial to its success and could be legacy defining, in my view.