A free ride is a transitory thing

By Ron Leir

Looks like Santa didn’t stock any goodies in his bag for already beleaguered residents of the Garden State.

If anything, he gave way to the Grinch who has a pension for distributing unhappy tidings for the upcoming years.

As reported in this past Friday’s edition of The Star-Ledger and elsewhere, one big baddie looming is a passenger pass-along NJ Transit plans to inflict on its New Jersey riders to help pay for nearly $13 billion in new Hudson River rail tunnels.

Phased in over the next two decades, there’ll be a 90¢ per trip surcharge starting in 2020, then $1.70 in 2028 and $2.20 in 2038 which, collectively, would yield nearly $2 billion of the total construction cost.

New York commuters, however, won’t share the bill; instead, New York State will pay its portion with a $1.75 billion loan from the Federal Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement program repayable over 35 years. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey is on board for $2.7 billion in Gateway funding – which includes the tunnel work – and the U.S. Department of Transportation would kick in the rest.

The new tunnels are to be built so that the existing rail tunnels owned by Amtrak that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 can be fixed. The cost of those repairs, along with expanding Penn Station in NYC and New Jersey track capacity, will also be paid for under this massive financing deal.

Will the surcharges on New Jersey riders go away after the work is done?

I doubt it.

The Holland and Lincoln tunnels were supposed to be free after the construction bonds for those Port Authority construction projects were paid off — but the last time I looked, the tolls were still in place. For cars, it’s $15 for cash transactions;  for E-ZPass users, it’s $11.50 for peak hours or $10.50 for non-peak times.

By the way, it’s amazing to see how many drivers still don’t have E-ZPass. Have you noticed the lines at the toll booths for the cash customers?

Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see how the federal tax reform plan shakes out. I’m afraid to ask my accountant.

In the meantime, I now make the following predictions on what we can expect ahead in 2018 for The Observer’s coverage area:

  1. The deck for the new Hackensack River (Rt. 7) linking Kearny and Jersey City now under construction will be installed but no vehicles will traverse the massive span because the approach ramps – among other things – are incomplete. Fear not, however. The NJDOT projects completion by 2022. (So far, no tolls are in the works.)
  2. Lyndhurst will get commitments from the Murphy administration in Trenton for a new and improved rail station and a replacement for the Kingsland Ave. bridge. It will also see the beginnings of a comeback for the Stuyvesant Ave. business district.
  3. The long-awaited East Newark Town Center project – conversion of the old Clark Thread factory to new apartments – should start to take shape.
  4. Harrison residents will see ground broken for the town’s new Kennedy School. They’ll also see the appointment of a new police chief following the March 1 retirement of Chief Derek Kearns.
  5. At long last, Kearny will emerge from the miasma of the high school construction project and witness a trailer-free front lawn and interior improvements.
  6. By September, the new medical school campus to be developed by Hackensack Meridian Health and Seton Hall University on the site of the former Roche property in Nutley should be admitting its first students.
  7. The new Fed Ex distribution center in North Arlington should start operations this year after construction of a new vehicular access route off the Belleville Pike, complete with signalization, is completed.
  8. Belleville voters will be faced with a predictably turbulently contested mayoral election as voters choose between the incumbent, Raymond Kimble, and challenger and former township councilman, Michael Melham.
  9. The fate of the Keegan landfill in Kearny figures to be played out with the conclusion of litigation between the town and the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority early in the year. The NJSEA wants to continue its use as a dump while Kearny wants the land for recreational and/or commercial use.
  10. The Kearny Rewards Card – an innovation designed as a shopping stimulus for both merchants and customers sponsored by the Kearny Urban Enterprise Zone program – should make its debut.

If any of these events do transpire, dear readers, it’s a safe bet you’ll be reading about them in the pages of The Observer next year. Thanks for picking us up. Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!


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