Governor Phil Murphy and the State of New Jersey Finalize Purchase of “Old Boonton Line” to Create Greenway

September 15, 2022 |

In a major milestone in the long-sought effort to create a multi-use recreation trail spanning Essex and Hudson Counties, Governor Phil Murphy and the State of New Jersey have successfully acquired inactive railway in northern New Jersey stretching nearly nine miles from Montclair to Jersey City.  The acquisition of this former rail line property sets the stage for a transformation – New Jersey’s newest linear State Park. The $65 million state investment marks New Jersey’s single largest conservation project ever and the largest transaction aimed at securing a non-motorized transportation corridor.

The Essex-Hudson Greenway Coalition, comprised of the Open Space Institute, the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, and the September 11 National Memorial Trail Alliance, which coordinated and advocated for the project over the last four years, today celebrated the acquisition that moves the project closer to becoming a reality. 

“This acquisition by Governor Murphy and the state of New Jersey brings us one step closer to creating much-needed green space to the most densely populated and diverse region in the entire nation,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute, which secured the purchase agreement for the 135-acre former rail property and provided extensive transactional support for the acquisition. “OSI is proud to have played a role in bringing this transformative project to today’s announcement and looks forward to building on our public-private partnership and fulfilling the promise to create a word-class linear park that will greatly enhance local communities and be enjoyed for generations to come.”

The newly acquired state land spans Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus, and Jersey City. Measuring close to 100 feet wide in areas, the park will offer residents ample space for off-road transportation and recreational biking and walking. The Greenway has the potential to support new and existing businesses, create enhanced access to a healthy, thriving green space for historically underserved communities, and offer the communities adjacent to the property with significant flood control and environmental solutions to resolve longstanding issues.

According to a press release from Governor Murphy’s office, $20 million dollars in federal American Rescue Plan funds have been included in New Jersey’s budget to remediate and begin the structural work necessary to transform the abandoned rail line into a usable transportation corridor and recreational space. The entire line will remain closed to the public for approximately six to 12 months, after which time the line will be opened to the public segment by segment as work on individual sections is completed over the next several years. The sequence of the development and opening of the greenway, as well as the design for amenities, transportation options, and connections to local community resources, will be informed by a strategic master plan for the Greenway. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, a major partner in the project, will procure a consultant to support the development of the master plan, in addition to leading an interagency working group and cultivating engagement with local elected officials, community members, and other interested parties.

“Today’s announcement of the acquisition of the land for the Greenway is a historic step on the path to transforming our region with equitable and safe, and active transportation options and much needed open space. We want to thank the many advocates who persevered over so many years to fulfill this dream, and to thank Governor Murphy for securing this land and his commitment to creating it as New Jersey’s next state park,” said Debra Kagan, Executive Director, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition.

In 2021, the September 11th National Memorial Trail received unanimous federal legislation for the trail route connections the National Memorial and Museum in New York to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, VA, to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA, creating a triangle shaped 1,300 mile trail route that is 50% trail today. The Essex-Hudson Greenway will comprise a portion of the 1,300-mile, multi-use trail.

“Many people don’t realize that in addition to providing nearby residents with new green space, the Essex-Hudson Greenway also has national significance as a component of the 9/11 Memorial Trail,” said Andy Hamilton, Chair of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance Board of Directors. “It’s exciting to see that we are one step closer to realizing this full potential of this project and we remain committed to supporting the State of New Jersey and our coalition partners as the project moves forward.”

Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill, a leading advocate for the Greenway since its inception nearly 15 years ago, spoke to the history of the Essex-Hudson Greenway and the benefits it will provide. “Residents of underserved communities adjacent to the line will now have more access to recreational areas, which will foster an appreciation for the outdoors, encourage exercise, and improve the overall health and quality of life for future generations. I believe, upon its completion, the Essex-Hudson Greenway will serve as a blueprint for future projects nationwide. It will demonstrate the positive effects large-scale, environmentally friendly transportation projects can have on our community.”

The local communities along the line have been very involved in advocating for the creation of a shared walk and bike space. The project follows the right-of-way of the eastern portion of NJ Transit’s former Boonton Line. Passenger service was discontinued on this portion of the line in 2002, following the completion of NJ Transit’s Montclair Connection and the diversion of Boonton Line trains onto the transit carrier’s Morris & Essex Line. After the termination of NJ Transit’s commuter service, limited freight service continued until the last rail customer ceased operations in 2015.

Soon after the rail service ended, residents of communities all along the line began campaigning for a linear park that would serve as a “shared-use path” for people walking, riding a bicycle, running, rollerblading, or just relaxing. Groups including the Bloomfield Open Space Trust Fund, the Friends of the Ice & Iron Trail, and groups in North Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken have long advocated for the Greenway.

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 and 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.