Leaders Cite Transportation, Storm Water Infrastructure, and Local Greenspace Benefits of Once-in-a-Lifetime Greenway Project
NORTHERN NEW JERSEY – Local, county and state elected leaders from the City of Newark and Essex County, in collaboration with representatives from several community groups and the Essex-Hudson Greenway Coalition, came together recently to offer their endorsement of the once-in-a-lifetime linear park project and offer deeper insight into the current status and positive community impact of the greenway.
Offering their full support and endorsement of the project during the virtual meeting were State Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, City of Newark Councilmen Anibal Ramos Jr. and Luis A. Quintana, and Essex County Commissioners Brendan W. Gill and Robert Mercado. Presented by The Open Space Institute (OSI) and its partners – the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance, the event was sponsored by Councilman Ramos, the Mount Prospect Partnership and the Forest Hill Community Association.
“The greenway will be a true asset to the State of New Jersey. When we think of an area such as Essex County, an urban county for all intents and purposes, our ability to restore and create new open spaces is limited,” said Senator Ruiz. “Since I first took office, this (project) has been an ideal dream, something which I thought would be very easy. Fast forward, nearly a decade later, alongside some very strong advocates, the dream that I thought about has become a real magnet for what I know will be a true asset for the Garden State.”
For walkers, runners, cyclists, hikers and others, the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway would create nearly nine miles of linear park, connecting Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus, and Jersey City. In January 2020, OSI secured a time-limited purchase agreement with Norfolk Southern for the purchase of the former Boonton Line. The abandoned rail line traverses eight municipalities in Essex and Hudson Counties. Having already secured one extension to finalize the deal, time is running out to complete the purchase of the property. Under terms of the $65 million purchase agreement, the transfer deadline is quickly approaching.
“I consider myself a proud supporter of this project. Along with Councilman Quintana, I sponsored a City Council resolution in support of this. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, not only for the North Ward, but for the corridor that connects Montclair and Jersey City, and has a big chunk of the City of Newark involved,” said Councilman Ramos. “On the municipal side, we are definitely all on board in supporting this and doing whatever we can to advocate (for the project). This 135-acre linear park is a unique opportunity for us to transform the area and I am hopeful we are in a position where we can take advantage of this. Let’s take this to the finish line!”
According to a presentation made during the meeting by Debra Kagan, Executive Director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, the Greenway spans an average of 100 feet or more in width throughout its route, and has the potential to reduce traffic congestion and help mitigate storm water issues that plague the region around the proposed linear park. In light of the September 1 storms that ravaged significant parts of New Jersey, the project represents a “build back better” response to the proposed Biden infrastructure bill, addresses recommendations of the recent IPCC report by the United Nations, and answers the demands of elected officials related to severe weather events and climate change.
The Greenway will also improve transportation options for residents, and allow for improved infrastructure connectivity for things like broadband and emergency response. Work has already begun on the in terms of planning, surveying, environmental assessments, and more.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Newark and the surrounding community, and the opportunity is now! Over the years, over the decades, the neglect of that railroad and the impact it has had on our North Ward community has been devastating,” said Essex County Commissioner Robert Mercado. “This opportunity to expand the green space and recreational space for our kids is invaluable. It is going to provide new transportation options to residents. From an environmental standpoint, we can begin to see green space open throughout the corridor. The economic impact will promote new businesses around the corridor. Each of the municipalities will come closer by way of this project. This project will have an impact for generations to come.”
Residents of communities all along the proposed length of the linear park have been campaigning for more than a decade to create a greenway that would serve as a “shared-use path” for people walking, riding a bicycle, running, rolling, or just relaxing along this corridor. “This project is so exciting for all of us,” said Dan Zanella of the Forest Hill Community Association. “One of the most interesting things for us is to the return of this space to an active, beautiful community amenity. One that is accessible to everyone in the community, one that connects us to our neighboring communities, and improves the quality of life, offers wellness opportunities.”
The Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, also known as the Laudato Si’, is a 2015 encyclical and appeal from Pope Francis addressed to “every person living on this planet” to begin an inclusive dialogue about the future of our planet. Pope Francis calls on the Church and the world to acknowledge the environmental challenges of the planet and work towards a new path. “The Greenway is an example of what Pope Francis calls for in our being responsible stewards of God’s gift of creation,” said Father Timothy Graff, Secretary of Parish Mission and Vitality Director of Social Concerns Office for the Archdiocese of Newark, who spoke at the virtual meeting. “The Church calls us to have a preferential option for the poor, and I believe that the Greenway is especially important as it would be a benefit to so many of our poorer and more vulnerable people.”
For decades, local community leaders have been calling for the creation of a linear park on the former rail line property to create a safe, off-road trail to ride a bike and walk; ease traffic and offer active transportation options; create alternate commuting options; provide close-to-home, easy access to the outdoors; and bring much needed green space to urban communities. Currently, the line creates a blight and a hazard and eye sore to every town along the line.
“This project is larger and bigger than any one individual or any one group. The project was brought to my attention over a decade ago, but its goal remains the same – to bring communities together in our County and to help promote a healthy and sustainable way of life,” said Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill. “I truly believe this is a transformational project that will affect our County and our region in a positive way for generations to come.”
For more information on the Essex-Hudson Greenway Project, visit www.essexhudsongreenway.org.
About Open Space Institute
Founded more than four decades ago, the Open Space Institute (OSI) has partnered in the protection of 2.3 million acres across eastern North America from Quebec to Florida. Over the past 16 years, OSI has worked to protect more than 21,000 acres of New Jersey farms, forests, and local parkland within the Highlands, the Pinelands, the Bayshore, and the heavily developed northeastern suburbs. In addition to the Essex Hudson Greenway, OSI’s current projects include efforts to help protect land and improve water quality in the Delaware River Basin and provide public access to the 1,200-acre Jersey City Reservoir in Boonton and Parsippany.
About New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition
The New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition (NJBWC) is the only statewide advocacy organization for bicyclists and pedestrians and provides a collective voice for everyone who believes that a more rideable and walkable New Jersey means a more livable, equitable, and sustainable New Jersey. NJBWC officially adopted the Essex Hudson Greenway Project in 2014 and has been a leader in building the advocacy campaign to make it a reality.
About the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance
The September 11th National Memorial Trail is a 1,300-mile system of trails and roadways that links the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The route serves as a symbol of national resiliency and character and as a tribute to the fallen heroes who perished on September 11, 2001, and the many heroes who have committed themselves to the response for their country.