The Northern Branch is a freight rail line owned by CSX Transportation that runs through Hudson and Bergen Counties to the New York State Border. The Northern Branch Corridor, through which the rail line traverses, is a densely settled suburban environment that has not been served by passenger rail since the discontinuation of service on the Northern Branch and West Shore Lines in the 1950s and 60s.
The Northern Branch Corridor Project calls for transit improvements in northeastern Hudson and southeastern Bergen Counties through the restoration of passenger rail service on an existing freight rail line. The electric light rail service would operate on West Side Avenue in North Bergen, and then on existing railroad right-of-way owned by CSX Transportation (CSX) between 91st Street in North Bergen and the northern border of Englewood and would introduce new station stops in North Bergen, Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Leonia, and Englewood.
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The growth of automobile usage and accompanying roadway congestion in recent decades led planners and officials to search for solutions to the growing traffic problems in the Bergen County area. In the mid-1990s the West Shore Region Study provided a comprehensive examination of multi-modal opportunities throughout Bergen County, New Jersey and Rockland County, New York. Recommended for further study was an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) from 85th Street in North Bergen along the Northern Branch to Tenafly, New Jersey.
The Northern Branch Corridor DEIS was prepared by NJ TRANSIT in cooperation with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to evaluate the benefits, costs and social, economic and environmental impacts of constructing and operating passenger rail service on the Northern Branch. The DEIS evaluated two Build Alternatives: the Preferred Alternative, which extended existing Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) service from North Bergen to the Tenafly-Cresskill border, and a similar HBLR extension that terminated at Route 4 in Englewood.
The DEIS was published in November 2011, and can be reviewed here: Northern Branch DEIS.
Public hearings were held in January 2012, and the public comment period closed on February 21, 2012. More than 1,200 comments were received and reviewed by NJ TRANSIT. While many comments expressed support for the service, residents and community leaders in Tenafly were strongly opposed to the extension of service into their community. After considering the comments, FTA and NJ TRANSIT have developed a new alignment that would extend HBLR service from North Bergen to Englewood Hospital, which is north of Route 4 and south of Tenafly. Light rail service would not extend past Englewood.
This new alignment results in changes to the service plan and potential environmental and social impacts explored in the DEIS circulated for comment in 2012. As a result, this new alignment and associated changes have been analyzed in a Supplemental DEIS (SDEIS) and circulated for public comment and agency feedback in a process closely approximating the one undertaken for the DEIS.
The SDEIS was published on March 24, 2017, and can be reviewed here: Northern Branch SDEIS.
Similar to a DEIS, an SDEIS requires a public hearing and public comment period. The comments on the SDEIS and DEIS will be addressed together in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). A 60-day public comment period will follow the notice of availability (NOA) of the SDEIS, during which time NJ TRANSIT will hold a public hearing. Comments will be collected and reviewed in the same manner as conducted for the DEIS. Provided that the SDEIS comments do not present compelling arguments for substantial revision to the SDEIS Preferred Alternative, an FEIS will be prepared, incorporating the SDEIS findings and unchanged elements from the DEIS. A response to comments chapter will be included in the FEIS, addressing all comments received during the prior two comment periods.
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