Trains Can Revitalize, Not Just Move Passengers
By JAY CORBALIS
The Delaware River Port Authority is considering three possible alignments — designated as NJ-1, NJ-2 and NJ-3 — for the proposed extension of its PATCO rail line into Gloucester County. The purpose of the extension is to relieve traffic congestion in New Jersey’s fastest-growing county.
NJ-1 would run down the median of Route 42 and the Atlantic City Expressway to Williamstown. NJ-2 would run down the median of Route 55 to Glassboro. Both of these alignments may or may not relieve congestion along these highways, but they would almost certainly have another, less desirable impact — increasing pressure to convert open space and fertile farmland into sprawling development, much of it in environmentally sensitive areas.
Only NJ-3, which would run along an established rail line through the center of several historic Gloucester County towns, along the Conrail right-of-way, would be a win-win for the region and its residents. Not only would this routing relieve traffic congestion on area highways, but it would promote the revitalization of these historic centers by encouraging walkable, mixed-use development around the stations.
That’s why NJ-3 has been endorsed by the New Jersey State Planning Commission as consistent with the State Development and Redevelopment Plan. And that’s why the DRPA should adopt it.
While NJ-1 and NJ-2, running down the medians of congested highways, might appear to be the most straightforward way to relieve congestion, research suggests that NJ-3 would offer greater benefit.
Prof. John Hasse at Rowan University has found that a small — and shrinking — percentage of Gloucester County residents work in Philadelphia, which is the ultimate destination of the proposed extension. More than half of Gloucester County’s work force commutes to destinations within the county.
NJ-1 and NJ-2 — whose stations would be marooned in the middle of a highway, accessible only by automobile — would offer no way for these intra-county commuters to leave their cars at home and ride the train to work. By contrast, NJ-3 would run within walking distance of several of the county’s largest employers, including Rowan University and Underwood-Memorial Hospital, offering an attractive alternative to driving.
The DRPA’s decision will have a profound and long-lasting impact not just on Gloucester County but on the state, which is seeking in the coming decades to accommodate new residents while preserving open space and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Of the three proposed alignments, only NJ-3 will help New Jersey achieve these goals, while providing real transportation options to Gloucester County residents.