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About the Project - Purpose & Need - Alternatives

About the Project

This SDEIS updates the assessment of benefits, costs, and social, economic, and environmental impacts of constructing and operating passenger rail service between North Bergen in Hudson County and Englewood in Bergen County. The SDEIS was prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), as amended, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidelines, the FTA’s environmental impact regulations, Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 (recently amended at Title 49 USC Section 303), and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

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Purpose & Need

The current transportation system within the densely-settled Northern Branch Corridor is characterized as a substantial roadway-based transportation system. This system includes limited-access highways as well as a variety of local and commuter bus routes, all of which contribute to the recurring traffic congestion prevalent within the corridor and on the region’s roadways and crossings.

Rail transit, once a fundamental travel option for corridor residents, is now only available to the west and south of the corridor. Growing roadway congestion is creating saturated conditions on corridor roadways during peak commuting hours, increasing travel times for both private automobiles and buses. The most overwhelmed roadways and transit routes are those providing access south to Hudson and Essex Counties and east to New York City. Trends involving increasing population, a rise in the number of workers per household, and increasing use of single occupant automobiles, among others, are expected to exacerbate congestion.

The purpose and need of the proposed project is to improve mobility within Hudson and Bergen Counties, alleviate some traffic congestion, and support continued economic growth. Provision of new transportation service in the Northern Branch corridor would address the following goals and objectives:

Goal 1: Meet the needs of travelers in the project area

Objectives:

  • Attract riders to transit.
  • Improve travel time and reliability for travelers in the region.
  • Improve convenience by providing frequent service, adequate parking at stations, competitive travel times, and convenient connections to other transit services, such as ferries, PATH, and feeder services.
  • Provide more options for travelers.
  • Improve services for low-income/minority/transit-dependent travelers. 

Goal 2: Advance Cost-Effective Transit Solutions

Objectives:

  • Support favorable farebox recovery to help ensure that the provision of transit service in the corridor is financially sustainable.
  • Advance cost-effective transit solutions by advancing a project that, from a cost-benefit perspective, provides the greatest overall benefit at the lowest capital cost.
  • Support future expansion, scalability, and affordability. 

Goal 3: Attract growth and support development in Bergen and Hudson Counties, including the Hudson River Waterfront

Objectives:

  • Provide transportation capacity to support future population and employment growth
  • Help attract new businesses by introducing new transportation choices that improve access to New York and the rest of the region, which would help Bergen and Hudson Counties to maintain their competitive advantage in the region.

Goal 4: Improve regional mobility and access

Objective:

  • Provide connections to a variety of locations within the region including the growing Hudson River Waterfront area, Newark, Trenton, and major recreational attractions like the Meadowlands and the New Jersey Shore.

Goal 5: Reduce roadway congestion

Objective:

  • Provide more travel options for travelers trying to avoid highway congestion. 

Goal 6: Enhance the transit network

Objectives:

  • Eliminate gaps in the rail network. 
  • Eliminate gaps in the bus network.

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Alternatives

This SDEIS examines two alternatives: the No Build Alternative and the SDEIS Preferred Alternative.  The No Build Alternative assumes that the proposed project would not be implemented and provides a basis of comparison with the SDEIS Preferred Alternative.  The No Build Alternative is required under NEPA.  The SDEIS Preferred Alternative is a light rail system with a terminus in Englewood near the border with Tenafly.  Following is a brief description of the alternatives. 

No Build Alternative

The No Build Alternative represents the current transportation network plus other reasonably foreseeable transportation improvements that would be implemented by the year 2030.  Specifically, the elements of the No Build Alternative consist of NJ TRANSIT Bus Service, private bus service, NJ TRANSIT Hudson Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) service terminating at Tonnelle Avenue Station in Hudson County, NJ TRANSIT Commuter Rail Service, PATH Service, and ferry service.  It is assumed that the basic attributes of the bus system in eastern Bergen County would remain relatively unchanged in 2030.  Committed transportation elements of the No Build Alternative include US Route 1/9 widening, a new grade separation at 69th Street in North Bergen over the railroad corridor (currently under construction), and improvements to the ramps at Route 4 and Grand Avenue.

SDEIS Preferred Alternative

The SDEIS Preferred Alternative would provide service from North Bergen through Fairview, Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Leonia, and Englewood, terminating at a station and shared parking deck at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. This terminal station was selected because it allows for access to Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, a major employer and destination for the study area communities. Providing a station and shared parking at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center would capture commuters from the north before they enter the town center of Englewood, helping the project achieve its goals of improving mobility and reducing roadway congestion. Additionally, extending the line through Englewood allows for service through the business district of Englewood, providing job access and supporting economic development.

The Preferred Alterative proposes to use light rail vehicles, which are powered by electricity and are lighter in weight than traditional commuter rail vehicles; however these light rail vehicles are not certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to run in mixed rail traffic with heavy rail and freight rail. This means that the Preferred Alternative would require freight service to operate at night, when light rail service is not operating, thereby affecting nighttime sound levels. Additionally, to provide the necessary electricity, small substations would be placed approximately one mile apart along the alignment.

The Preferred Alternative would provide service to municipalities along the corridor between North Bergen and Englewood, linking to the Hudson River Waterfront, providing access to Manhattan via transfer at Weehawken (ferry) or Hoboken (ferry and PATH).  This service would be time-separated from the freight operations.  For this SDEIS, the span of service was analyzed with extended hours beginning at 5:00 am and ending at 1:00 am.  Freight providers would be assumed to use the alignment from 1:30 am to 4:30 am.  This would be a best case scenario for passenger service and it has not yet been determined whether freight customers along the alignment would be able to accommodate a 3-hour window for loading and unloading product.  The exact schedule would be developed during negotiations with the freight railroads during Final Engineering and Design.

The Preferred Alternative would run on headways of approximately 6.5 minutes during the peak hours and 15 minutes during the off-peak period between North Bergen and the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center Station.  The proposed service would offer a one-seat ride from Englewood directly onto the HBLR service.  One-seat ride service is considered more desirable than service that requires transfers, as transfers create delay and enter an element of uncertainty into a passenger’s commute.

Project Element General Descriptions

The Preferred Alternative would include seven stations in North Bergen, Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Leonia, and Englewood.  The proposed VBF would be co-located with the Englewood Route 4 Station parking deck.  

Between Tonnelle Avenue and 85th Street the tracks would be on a new alignment, crossing on viaduct over the CSX North Bergen Yard, then traveling along West Side Avenue until 85th Street.  While on West Side Avenue, in the vicinity of 79th Street, the proposed alignment would begin to grade separate on a second viaduct, known as the 85th Street Viaduct.  This viaduct would take the Northern Branch over the freight facilities including the at-grade NYS&W tracks and the elevated CSX River Line alignment and return to grade in North Bergen near 90th Street.  New roadway would also be constructed, extending 85th Street to West Side Avenue via an underpass through the CSX River Line embankment.  This railroad underpass and grade crossing of the extended 85th Street is referred to as the 85th Street Extension. The existing underpass at 83rd Street would be closed.

North of 90th Street to Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, the Northern Branch right-of-way would be restored to a two-track alignment, including double-tracks through the town center of Englewood. 

Along the length of the project, existing ties and rail would be removed, and new ballast, ties, and rails would be installed.  Tail tracks would be installed between the end of the service route by Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and the Englewood-Tenafly border to enable the light rail transit (LRT) vehicles to pull through the station and await the return trip south. 

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