Senate president signs Circle of Mobility into law Monroe questions the number of towns in favor of rail line

Senate president signs
Circle of Mobility into law
Monroe questions the number of towns
in favor of rail line

By nicole c. vaccaro

MONROE — The township’s attempt to stop a proposed rail line from getting federal approval may now be a moot point.

Yesterday, state Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco (R-22) signed the bill, which was approved by both houses of the state Legislature last month, into law. Gov. Christine Whitman was at Ellis Island at the time he signed the bill.

The law includes a central New Jersey rail link in the Circle of Mobility. That rail line could be the Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex passenger rail line (MOM) which has been discussed for several years.

Not only are some of the residents and the township’s governing body not looking forward to the possibility of the MOM coming into fruition, but they are furious over what they now claim to be false statements made by NJ Transit Director Jeffrey Warsh.

In one of his earlier statements, Warsh was quoted as saying, "Seventy-two of 75 municipalities in Monmouth, Ocean, and Middlesex counties favor the MOM line."

He then added, "Monroe, Jamesburg, and South Brunswick in Middlesex County are opposed."

However, just this week, NJ Transit released a list to a daily newspaper that contained the names of only 48 municipalities that have issued resolutions in support of MOM.

Thus, those communities that oppose the line have been left wondering what happened to the other 24 so-called supporters.

As a result, township officials drafted a resolution asking Gov. Whitman to demand that both the state Assembly and Senate reconsider their votes in favor of making the MOM project a prime candidate for federal funding.

The resolution, which was unanimously approved at last Wednesday’s Township Council meeting, read, "[The governor must] at the minimum apply a conditional veto to the legislation and send it back to the Legislature for further hearings."

According to Councilman Irwin Nalitt, who is spearheading the township’s fight to stop the rail line, "When Warsh was asked to clarify this discrepancy [in numbers], all he had to say was that the total number of towns supporting MOM mattered less than the total number of people in favor."

Even if that were the case, however, Nalitt said that neither of those numbers was ever clarified nor supported by any real evidence.

"The bill was passed on the basis of false information. That’s the bottom line," Nalitt added. "[NJ Transit] is dancing around the truth here and that is unacceptable, especially when those missing numbers could be the difference between a fair and educated vote or a hasty one."

The township’s resolution also refers back to NJ Transit’s original 1996 decision to reject a MOM commuter line.

Additionally, the council blames the department’s change of heart on Warsh’s appointment and his "vulnerability to lobbyists in Monmouth and Ocean County."

The resolution was hand-delivered to the governor’s office last week.

"There is not much more we can do right now, except wait for the governor to respond," Nalitt said. "But that, in no way, means we’re giving up."

Nalitt said that he met with South Brunswick officials last week to discuss their options.

Also in attendance were Assembly-woman Linda Greenstein and Assembly-man Gary Guear (both D-14). Jamesburg Borough Councilman Otto Kostbar was also on hand, as well as two residents from Howell who have recently organized a MOM opposition group there.

"There is more opposition to this than we’re being led to believe," Nalitt said. "Ken Knudsen, one of the Howell residents, has been extremely active in circulating petitions, designing a Web site, and contacting other towns seeking support.

"We can learn a lot from each other," he added.

Nalitt also claims the council has discovered some opposition among Englishtown and Freehold Township residents as well.

If that were true, that would bring the total number of towns signaling disapproval up to six, rather than the original three Warsh cited.

Warsh was unavailable for comment; however, he was recently quoted as saying, "The list of 72 municipalities has become fixed in lore, and we’re trying to track down how folks reached the 72 and 75 numbers."

Furthermore, Warsh has said that the only thing standing in NJ Transit’s way right now is the capital funds.

"Once we get that money, we’ll build this thing," he previously stated. "We are an authority and our board of directors has full voting rights on the project."

Whitman’s office has publicly stated that it supports the MOM proposal, but is also aware of Middlesex County’s opposition and will keep that in mind.