Middlesex residents air objections at rail hearing

By charles w. kim
Staff Writer

Middlesex residents air
objections at rail hearing
By charles w. kim
Staff Writer

MONROE — Residents had their say and NJ Transit officials listened on Dec. 3 during a hearing about the $400 million Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex (MOM) commuter rail line proposal.

"Don’t even go there. I’m very aggravated," Jamesburg resident Michelle George said when asked how she felt about the proposed change in the use of the rail line which runs in front of her home.

The first of three scoping hearings took place at the Holiday Inn in Monroe.

The hearing took public comments on what should be included in a $4.5 million Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) being developed for NJ Transit by SYSTRA Consulting of Bloomfield.

The MOM proposal would use existing Conrail freight tracks to bring commuters from Ocean and Monmouth counties to the Northeast Corridor Line in South Brunswick. The MOM line would use diesel engines until it reached the existing Northeast Corridor line, which is run on electricity.

While the plan has support in two of the counties, Middlesex County and the towns of Jamesburg, Mon-roe, and South Brunswick, through which the line would pass, oppose the plan.

Three routes are being explored as part of the study.

The first would run north from Lakehurst through Lakewood in Ocean County, Howell, Farmingdale and Freehold before turning west through Manalapan and Englishtown in Monmouth County. The line would then continue to Jamesburg, Monroe and South Brunswick in Middle-sex County. NJ Transit officials said that this route was the one they most preferred.

The second route would run from Lakehurst to Freehold, then turn east to Red Bank, connecting with the North Jersey Coast Line for service to New York.

The third route would continue north from Freehold to Matawan where it would also connect with the North Jersey Coast Line.

Members of the public in the Middlesex County towns that may be involved were not very supportive of the project.

"Using diesel trains is a giant step backward," Monroe resident David Nut said.

Nut, who said he lives a couple hundred feet from the proposed line, questioned why the agency would use diesel-powered trains instead of electric.

"Why do we have to suffer the noise and smoke of diesel-powered trains? NJ Transit has never explained why," Nut said.

South Brunswick residents Andrew and Kelly Piazza said they are very concerned about the proposed line.

"It doesn’t make sense," Andrew Piazza said during a break in the hearing.

Piazza said that his family lives "just a stone’s throw away from the line," and that he attended the hearing to understand the issue better. He said the cost of the preferred MOM route, estimated at $400 million, effectively should take it out of the running.

"It was not considered properly. The other alternatives (the two other rail line options) cost half of that," Piazza said.

Piazza said they moved to South Brunswick two years ago from Long Island where he used to commute every day on the Long Island Railroad.

"We are vehemently opposed to the rail line," Kelly Piazza said.

Andrew Piazza said that he feels it is wrong for NJ Transit to undertake a losing proposition.

"NJ Transit is losing millions. It would lose NJ Transit $1 million per month," Piazza said, adding, "No real business person is going to support this."

Piazza also said the DEIS was too expensive given the state’s financial woes.

"How do they justify spending the money?" he asked.

Lori Markulin of Jamesburg was also against the plan.

"I don’t think it is good for my town. I don’t want to see fast trains go by," Markulin said.

While she opposes the commuter line, she doesn’t mind the line’s current use.

Markulin said the sporadic freight trains that currently pass by are acceptable, and act as an educational tool for her two children.

"They look forward to them," she said.

South Brunswick Councilman Ted Van Hessen said the plan was a bad idea years ago and still is.

"It was a terrible idea in 1996," Van Hessen said, citing a NJ Transit major-investment study from that year that dismissed the plan in favor of enhanced bus service on Route 9.

Some people who spoke in the hearing supported the Monmouth Junction alignment.

"There is an obvious need," said Hank DiPasquale, a former borough administrator for Freehold Borough. "I was a Route 9 bus commuter for years. I’ve seen the worsening of my commute."

DiPasquale, who is the vice chairman of the Ocean County Transportation Advisory Board, said he would like to see the line built "in my lifetime."

DiPasquale said that most of the objections raised were "proved to be myths" and that there are really only a few "not in my backyard" objectors.

"I would like to see a poll of the people," he said.

Comments on the plan can be submitted to NJ Transit until Jan. 31.

The study should be ready for public release and hearing sometime in 2004, according to Jeff Stiles of NJ Transit.