ENGLEWOOD – Senate President Steve Sweeney is continuing his charge into the world of North Jersey. The South Jersey native today joined notable Bergen names like Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37), Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D-37), County Executive James Tedesco, Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle and freeholders Tracy Zur and Tom Sullivan to announce their commitment to the expansion of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into eastern Bergen County.
Though no plans have officially been made, the northern expansion of the rail system would connect the Hudson portion of the light rail to Englewood, ending at Englewood Hospital where today’s event was held. At the event, Sweeney touted the project as critical despite the fact that approval would not directly impact any of his constituents down in LD3.
“We shouldn’t be committing regions of the state against each other,” Sweeney said. “Mass transit is critical to the entire state. That is why I traveled up here today. We can’t starve the state to fiscal strength.”
According to Sweeney, though projects like these do not directly impact his constituents, his support of the increased light rail has to do with the overall New Jersey economy. During his remarks today, Sweeney cited the amount of overall state revenue that New Jersey stands to lose of transit it and out of New York City was not made more convenient for riders through projects like the light rail. Sweeney is a widely rumored 2017 gubernatorial contender and his participation at events like these may be indicative of alliance building ahead of that gubernatorial run (on Tuesday he was the guest of honor at Hudson’s LD31 Senator Sandra Cunningham fundraiser, another indication).
“Senator Weinberg has said this is her main priority and I will stand with her on that,” Sweeney said. “I will stand with you on the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail.”
Efforts such as this one and Sweeney’s participation in the Gateway Tunnel negotiations—in which the federal government agreed today to fund 50 percent of the cost for a new tunnel into Manhattan—Sweeney has shown that his efforts in the North as Senate President can bring substantive results for those in his caucus, namely Weinberg and Sarlo. Currently, Weinberg, Sarlo and Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato are some of the most influential figureheads in the county’s Democratic party. Because Bergen is the most populous county, building their support through substantive issues like Gateway and the light rail may help Sweeney as he pushes for governor.
According to Weinberg, though the Gateway announcement today was a step forward, transit issues cannot be solved until projects like the light rail are made a priority. Today, all legislatures present pushed the important of renewing the Transportation Trust Fund in order to get that mission accomplished. When asked if she would approve a TTF agreement that did not include plans for an expanded light rail, Weinberg said she would not. As for a timeline, Weinberg said she hopes to get the project moving “as soon as the Transportation Trust Fund is refunded.”
“This is important to the most populous county in the most densely populated state in the nation,” Weinberg told PolitickerNJ.
The light rail was built in 2000 and, though the rail is named Hudson-Bergen, only the Hudson portion has been constructed thus far. The project and the northern portion discussed today were first proposed in the 1990s.
The TTF has been a hot topic in New Jersey as of late because of the dwindling funds and New Jersey’s crumbling transit infrastructure. As a way to refund the trust, a gas tax increase has been implemented though that suggestion has been widely unpopular among constituents statewide.