South Jersey light rail plan advances

The area just got one step closer to adding a public transportation line running from Camden to Glassboro, N.J., as the Delaware River Port Authority has approved an $8.1 million environmental impact study for the project.

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, lauds the decision.

“It’s not a good thing; it’s a great thing. One of the biggest problems we have is mass transportation in Southern New Jersey,” said Sweeney. “This will be a great benefit to the communities along the rail line, to the economy of the region, and to the environment. There’s just wins all the way around.”

Even though the money comes from taxpayer-funded New Jersey Transit, any cost to taxpayers will be well worth it, Sweeney said.

State Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, echoed that sentiment — citing the continued prosperity of Burlington County towns along the Camden-Trenton light rail line.

“In what has been the worst economic times in a generation, those areas along Burlington light rail have been expanding at a rapid pace,” Norcross said. “That too will happen as we move south.”

The DRPA predicts that the line will service between 15,000 and 17,000 riders daily. It will provide easy connection to numerous institutions and businesses including Rowan University, Underwood-Memorial Hospital, Cooper Medical Center — as well as the downtowns of Woodbury and Gloucester.

Even for those who never plan on using the line, DRPA chief operation officer John Matheussen says that it will do much to increase quality of life in the region. He cited decreased traffic on Routes 42 and 55, and increased regional property values as prime examples.

He also says it will do much to attract and keep working professionals in the region.

“This is an investment by the state of New Jersey into making certain that its future is protected,” Matheussen said. “If not, those people will go elsewhere where those kinds of things are available to them.”

The pathway of the proposed project is not one new to train travel; it’s been used for half a century ago for commuting, and more recently for freight.

After initial hopes for the project began in the 1990s, the current project has its impetus in feasibility studies first performed in 2002. Those led to a number of other studies leading up to the current one regarding environmental impact.

Consulting-engineering firm STV has been commissioned with performing that study. Officials expect STV to complete its analysis within 18 and 24 months.

Beyond the $8.1 million allocated for that work, the DRPA estimates it will need almost $2 billion more to bring the project to fruition. Although the source of that funding has yet to be guaranteed, proponents of the project are confident that they will be able to secure it. The DRPA hopes at least part of it will come from the federal government.

If all goes as expected, the DRPA hopes riders will be able to use a partial section of the line (Camden to Woodbury) by 2017 — with service to Glassboro readied by 2019.

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