Next stop ... North Brunswick?
Transit village designation sought for Route 1 site
February 10, 2007
BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP
The train could make its next stop in North Brunswick.
The Township Council announced this week that it is trying to get a transit village designation for the Johnson & Johnson property, located on Route 1 northbound, that abuts the existing Amtrak and NJ Transit Northeast Corridor line.
According to the state Department of Transpor-tation (DOT), a transit village encourages growth in New Jersey where infrastructure and public transit already exist.
“A transit village reduces traffic congestion and improves air quality by increasing transit riders. It also helps to redevelop and revitalize communities around transit facilities to make them appealing to live, work and play in,” according to the DOT Web site.
Although residents and officials have vocalized their support for a train station in town over the years, Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack said getting the designation from the DOT might not be easy.
“We would like the transit village designation, but we’re simply not willing to accept new high-density housing to get it,” Womack said. “The state hasn’t been very encouraging about our application, primarily because new housing seems to be a major requirement for receiving the designation.”
According to the DOT, studies have shown that an increase in residential housing options within walking distance of a transit facility does more to increase transit ridership than any other type of development. Therefore, it is a goal of the DOT’s Transit Village Initiative to bring more housing, more businesses and more people into communities with transit facilities.
The tract being considered for the transit village designation in the township, located between the Finnegans Lane and Commerce Boulevard intersections, includes approximately 207 acres of land currently owned by Johnson & Johnson.
The site is already surrounded by at least five high-density housing developments, all located within two miles of the proposed transit village.
The council hopes existing residential developments would satisfy the housing requirements of the designation, according to Township Council President Carlo Socio.
“If the state is going to designate that new housing be a part of getting the transit village, we think it’s going to be unacceptable,” Socio said.
Renaissance, a planned housing development of about 1,900 units off Route 130, is located directly behind the proposed site for the station.
“We hope Renaissance, Governor’s Pointe on Route 1 and other neighborhood housing developments would be sufficient to get us the transit village designation,” Womack said. “Then, we could maintain ratables with other industrial or commercial entities on the property.”
The township has worked closely with Johnson & Johnson officials since last year, when the plant ceased its manufacturing and distribution operations, to try to ensure good redevelopment of the property, Womack said.
Womack said the council and Johnson & Johnson representatives plan to publicly announce their partnership and plans for the redevelopment of the property as soon as next week.
Because the plant closing only affected 490 out of approximately 1,500 jobs located on the Johnson & Johnson property, Womack said the company has discussed keeping office space there.
When asked if he thought the company would move its current tenants from the land, Womack said, “There’s no reason for me to think that they would do that.”
When asked if he felt confident in Johnson & Johnson working with the township and not other prospective developers, Womack said, “I respect they have to seek to do what they feel is in their best interests. However, they’ve shown every interest in working with the township to make sure it’s responsible.”
With two traffic signaled access points from the widest part of Route 1 in North Brunswick, and potential access from the east with the proposed completion of a Finnegans Lane overpass, Womack said the tract is ideal for a transit village.
“We have very few east-west access roads,” Womack said. “Finnegans Lane, which runs from Route 27 to Route 1, if completed, would help keep the traffic off our local roads.”
In the event the township gets the designation from the state, officials hope to receive federal and state transportation grants to support the Finnegans Lane extension and the transit village.
Womack gave various reasons for having a train station in town. He said it would ease congestion at the Jersey Avenue train station in New Brunswick, which exists about three miles north of the township. He also said it would offer mass transportation for area commuting residents and ease traffic on busy Routes 1, 130 and 27.
“I think the location meets the requirements to become a transit village and it’s well located,” Womack said. “People from South Brunswick, Monroe and the rest of the southern part of the county could reach it easily.”
Although the state’s next round of transit village designations is expected as soon as next week, the council doesn’t think it will hear about their application so soon, Womack said.
“We’re going to keep pressure on the state to let them know we are serious about this,” Womack said.
Current transit villages exist in Rutherford, Metuchen, Morristown, Pleasantville, South Amboy, South Orange, Riverside and Rahway.
The DOT has recently allocated $1.2 million to fund six new transit villages: Collingswood, Bound Brook, Belmar, Bloomfield, Matawan and Cranford, according to the DOT’s Web site.
South Brunswick is currently surveying its residents about constructing a train station in the township. Since discussions began in that town, many of the residents have voiced opinions against such a project.
“South Brunswick is not in favor of it, but our residents seem to be,” Womack said.
Resident Fortunado Marcuzzi said, “You would want the state to OK the designation, even if we don’t do anything with it.”
Womack said even if the township received the transit village designation, residents would have to attend a public hearing before the council could vote on the matter.