Sweeney: Glassboro to Camden line “will be included” in the Transportation Trust Fund
February 28th, 2011 by Jay Corbalis
Saying that South Jersey would not be short-changed, Senate President and former Gloucester County Freeholder Stephen Sweeney insisted that funding for the proposed Camden to Glassboro light rail line (GCL) will be included “in any Transportation Trust Fund that is developed by the Christie administration,” according to the Gloucester County Times. The statement marks a significant development in the ongoing saga of the project, whose fate has been uncertain since Governor Jon Corzine left office.
The project, estimated at $1.3 billion, would extend passenger rail service from Camden to Glassboro, home of Rowan University. The route, which was the result of a lengthy public process over several years, runs along an existing right of way through many of Gloucester County’s historic downtowns, and was supported by both New Jersey Future and the State Planning Commission for its potential to spur smart growth and redevelopment in an area that has seen significant sprawl over the last several decades. (The other two routes under consideration ran down highway medians and would have significantly limited the potential for transit-oriented development.) The project also enjoys wide support among elected officials, business and civic groups, and major employers in the region. A similar project was proposed more than a decade ago but was derailed by a group of vocal opponents. Funding for that project was transferred to what became the Riverline in Burlington County.
The status of the GCL has been in jeopardy since Governor Corzine left office. In announcing the project in 2009, then-Governor Corzine committed $500 million from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund to help pay for the project. It has been unclear, however, whether Governor Chris Christie would honor that commitment. In May 2010, state Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson said the Christie administration supported the line, but would not commit to funding, saying the $500 million was “Corzine’s commitment, not ours.” Since then, the project has been “slowed down,” according to Delaware River Port Aauthority CEO John Matheussen, to resolve a dispute over bidding for a new study required for federal funding.
Sweeney’s comments on the line are significant because they indicate an intention to make the GCL part of a larger upcoming negotiation between the Legislature and the administration on transportation financing, one in which Sweeney, as Senate president, will play a significant role. His comments also point to the GCL playing a major role in the north vs. south horse-trading that typically accompanies transportation funding discussions in the Legislature.
All of this bodes well for the future of the project, but there are still significant hurdles. While the DRPA has committed to seeing the project through the study phase, it has said it does not want to operate the line, and it is unclear whether NJ Transit would be willing to step in and run the line. Moreover, even if Sweeney is successful in getting $500 million for the project, that still leaves a gap of $800 million that would need to be filled, most likely by the federal government through the New Starts program, at a time when federal funding for mass transit projects is highly uncertain.