State pledges funding for nine-mile linear park in North Jersey

The dream of turning nine miles of abandoned rail line between Montclair and Jersey City into a unique linear park took one big step toward becoming reality after the state announced this week it would provide the necessary funding for its acquisition.

The Essex-Hudson Greenway promises to bring millions of people closer to nature, while providing new, carbon-free transportation opportunities. The park–which would be the state’s first in 15 years—would also connect with longer trails like the Sept. 11 National Memorial Trail and the East Coast Greenway, which is striving to provide an off-road trail from Maine to Florida and requires public investment in trail connections like this.

The price ($65 million) to acquire the 135-acre parcel of land was negotiated by the Open Space Institute, ​​the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and the 9/11 Trail Alliance. It was unclear throughout the year whether the state (Gov. Murphy, really) would allocate the funds to buy the land from the Norfolk Southern rail company. 

The decision to fund it—in large part through means available through the American Rescue Plan—was a welcome development for the groups involved, environmentalists and civic advocates.

“The Greenway project will make it easier for millions of people to enjoy the benefits of being outdoors, completely transform the way communities connect with nature and connect with each other, linking people to parks, waterways, and their neighbors—all while creating alternative transportation options, improving water quality, and spurring economic activity,” says Open Space Institute President and CEO Kim Elliman.

Adds Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette: “This is a historic investment that will enrich communities in Essex and Hudson counties, the state and the region—serving as a hub for ecotourism and unlocking the potential for even greater transit and environmental infrastructure improvements. It is exactly the kind of transformative project that New Jersey residents deserve.”

The new park would pass through eight communities—Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus and Jersey City—while crossing both the Passaic and Hackensack rivers. The rail line runs through existing parks and wetlands as well as more developed areas. The initial design of the park includes walking paths, bike lanes and more to maximize its connection to nature. 

Reserved in the plans is the potential to incorporate public transit options in the future. Says NJ TRANSIT President & CEO Kevin S. Corbett: “Greenways and smart, clean public transit are vital to the quality of life in New Jersey, and I’m proud that our continued partnership will assure that these critical needs, for green space and green transportation, will have the opportunity to be fulfilled together.”

Now, the project needs to secure funding to develop and design the park in the future. According to the Essex-Hudson Greenway Coalition, the project is still in “the early stages,” and there will be “many opportunities for discussion throughout the design, planning and programming stages of the project.” 

But given that the deal negotiated between the rail line and the Open Space Institute et. al was set to expire in January, securing the funding from the state for its purchase was a massive first step. Now, planners can begin to parcel out how the bill to build out the park (which certainly will surpass the $65 million to purchase the land) will be distributed.