NJ Transit gets input on future MOM line

By dave benjamin
Staff Writer

NJ Transit gets input
on future MOM line
By dave benjamin
Staff Writer

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — Representatives from NJ Transit are seeking public comment concerning the possible Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex rail corridors currently under consideration.

"We’ve had approximately 100 people show up [at Freehold Gardens Hotel] as of 4 o’clock this afternoon," said Ken Miller, spokesman for NJ Transit. "Of those, about 28 people have come in to speak during the public portion of our meetings [which began at 1:30 p.m. and will last until 9:30 p.m.]. We also have stenographers available in the next room so that [members of the public] can provide testimony privately. If, in fact, they do not want to stand up and speak before a large crowd, [they can] still get their public input into this project."

Under the $4.5 million MOM rail line Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), put together by SYSTRA Consulting, Bloomfield, three rail routes are being considered: Monmouth Junction to Lakehurst, Matawan to Lakehurst, and Red Bank to Lakehurst.

Opposition to the Red Bank/Lakehurst route was heard from the mayor of Shrewsbury, Emilia M. Siciliano, who said she represented 3,600 residents who strongly oppose the 27.7-mile Red Bank to Lakewood, diesel-operated, passenger rail line.

The Shrewsbury mayor noted that on Nov. 18 the council resolved to support the 40.1-mile Lakehurst to Monmouth Junction route.

Testimony continued throughout the afternoon and evening.

"As an organization that represents hundreds of influential and respected businesses in the region, we believe that restoring train service along the MOM alignment, from inland central New Jersey to the Northeast corridor, [has] far greater [importance] than just alleviating congestion along the routes taken by northward or Manhattan-bound commuters," said Gregory Aiken, president, Monmouth-Ocean Development Council, Manasquan. "Benefits to the region reach far beyond Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties by providing an alternative means of transportation to job destinations, educational facilities, medical centers, cultural attractions and airports."

Aiken said the plan is about being able to go to locations all over the state, Trenton, New Brunswick, and other points north and south. He noted that in the next decade approximately 25 percent of New Jersey’s population is expected to reside in Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties.

"The MOM rail line is a natural solution for the mobilization of a population in developed areas," said Aiken. "Using existing tracks and rights of way, the investment must be viewed as cost-effective, given today’s needs and tomorrow’s inevitable trends," he said.

Aiken added, "We believe strongly there is no better access to the collective interests and the best of what our counties have to offer than along the proposed Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex routes."

William Wood, director of the Monmouth County Division of Employment and Training, Red Bank, expressed his support for the implementation of rail transportation in Monmouth. Wood said the rail transportation would be beneficial for people who were seeking and maintaining employment. It would reduce pollution and traffic congestion in one of the fastest growing areas in New Jersey, he said. This is particularly true in the western region of Monmouth County, where the lack of transportation for those who are unemployed is the primary impediment to secure employment, he said.

"We are at a critical moment in the history of Central Jersey," said Speedy Verosloff, Howell.

Verosloff listed traffic jams, congestion, road rage, frustration and air pollution as some of the commuter problems that are plaguing the area. He pointed to gridlock from cars, trucks and buses and the "noxious fumes" they emit when standing still with engines idling in traffic jams.

He said the MOM railroad would be confined to a corridor and would take passengers safely to their destination.

"My own preference is the Monmouth Junction route so that we can travel toward New York along the main line, as well as Philadelphia and points inbetween," said Verosloff. "Passengers can travel to their jobs as well as Rutgers or Princeton [universities]. They can visit relatives, friends, see shows or athletic events, and they can travel in comfort."

Jim Raleigh, Colts Neck, asked to have the Red Bank option dropped. He said he would like the other two routes to be examined as soon as possible, and the best route, which would cost the least amount of money, should be implemented. What is needed, according to Raleigh, is a state-coordinated plan.

Fred Brody, vice president, Monmouth Transportation Council, testifying as a private citizen, said the MOM line would handle the population growth and help alleviate congestion by removing cars from roadways. The planning process should begin now, so as to identify future costs, he said.

"Senior citizens overwhelmingly favor this," said Edwin Walley, Manalapan. "It would enable people to go faster and safer, and would clear up a lot of congestion on Route 9. It’s important that we get this MOM line done, and it should be expedited as quickly as possible."

Louise Usechak, Corn Lane, Shrewsbury, said that the eastern portion of Monmouth County has several bus and rail routes. She said the need lies in western Monmouth County, which is not served well by mass transit. It should go forward and should not be delayed by pencil pushing, she said.

Jeff Vernick, Deptford Court, Freehold Township, said he came to speak about the specifics of the plan.

"The only transit alternative to my car is to take a crowded bus service to Newark or New York City on congested Route 9, the New Jersey Turnpike and the Lincoln Tunnel," said Vernick. "I must drive 35 minutes to reach the nearest train stations. The lack of train service to interior Monmouth County is daunting, and to me clearly recommends that MOM must serve western Monmouth County via Middlesex [County] and Monmouth Junction."

Barry D. Denkensohn, a Marlboro councilman, described the growth and development in Monmouth and Ocean counties over the past 10 years, which has contributed to traffic congestion.

"I’m here to say that I’m in favor of the MOM proposal, the Monmouth Junction commuter rail proposal," said Denkensohn. "Everybody knows that Route 9 has heavy traffic congestion that has gotten worse over the past few years. It is hoped that, with a new rail line, many of the commuters will switch over to rail."

Written testimony was submitted from Sen. John O. Bennett (R-12) and Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-13) during the public scoping meeting as well.

In a joint statement, the senators said, "Rush hour traffic congestion in the MOM area has become a serious quality of life issue. A MOM rail line would provide a viable option for New Jersey’s commuters. It would provide a long-term solution to a worsening problem."

The senators added, "Stated simply, the area needs this service. The area is projected to grow by an additional 26 percent by 2025. Employment in the region is expected to increase almost 32 percent by 2025."

Similar figures were reported by Bonnie Goldschlag, Monmouth County planning director, who said that by 2020 the population in western Monmouth will increase by 21 percent and jobs will be up by 37 percent.

According to James Schwartzwalder, project manager, NJ Transit, written comment will be accepted through Jan. 31 via e-mail at MOMcomments@njtransit.com, or comments can be sent directly to James Schwartzwalder, project manager, NJ Transit, One Penn Plaza East, Newark, NJ 07105-2246.