An old, abandoned rail line stretching from Jersey City to Montclair is about to get a huge makeover.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced Nov. 11 New Jersey’s intent to buy the nearly nine miles of property connecting the two towns for the creation of the Garden State’s first new state park since 2006.
The news follows years of advocacy aimed at transforming the abandoned former Boonton rail alignment. The governor said the park will include walking paths, bike lanes, and other recreational uses.
“This project has been years in the making, and I am proud to be the Governor to advance this dream to being a reality,” Murphy said at a news conference in Bloomfield. “This new park will be a crown jewel of our state park system, providing much-needed recreational space to New Jerseyans and out-of-state visitors, while revitalizing and protecting environmentally-sensitive areas.”
“This is our High Line moment,” the governor declared.
Park Will Connect North Jersey Communities
A number of North Jersey communities will be connected by the park, including Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus, and Jersey City.
Funding for the new park will come from a number of sources, including the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and NJ Transit, the legislature, and New Jersey’s congressional delegation, utilizing American Rescue Plan funding.
State and local officials hope that a new pedestrian route planned for the park will get residents out of their cars more often to travel instead on foot and on bicycles. The Murphy administration has set a goal of reducing the state’s overall emissions by 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
“I am so proud of the Essex-Hudson Greenway project and the broad coalition that’s come together to support it,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill at the announcement. “In this densely populated area of our state, building a bike and hiking trail along out of use rail lines will link together communities, improve quality of life, expand our state park system and revitalize our towns.”
The Congresswoman added, “This greenway will allow communities to come together and provide business opportunities along the trail. I can’t wait until this is completed. I know my family and many others in the region will treasure it.”
Sherrill was one of many New Jersey state and federal lawmakers lauding the project.
“The Essex Hudson Greenway project is another example of investing in our state’s infrastructure to revitalize old, unused sites for the benefit of our state’s residents and to advance environmental causes,” said Sen. Cory Booker. “The renovated corridor will help pave the way for future public transportation options between Essex and Hudson counties, lead to the construction of walkways and bike lanes, and crucially, assist with stormwater management.”
“The pandemic has proven the value of open space,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell. “Thanks to money passed by Congress and signed into law by President (Joe) Biden, the Greenway can be a stunning park for our North Jersey communities in one of the most densely populated areas in America.”
Pascrell said he was excited that federal American Rescue Plan funds were being used for the initiative. “Gov. Murphy’s commitment to open spaces will be life-changing for our state,” he said.
State Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) remarked that for “far too long, our families have had to deal with the negative impact of an abandoned rail line. From illegal dumping to being an inviting space for negative activities, the rail line has tainted homeownership, backyards, new developments, new elementary schools and the first countywide park system in the country.”
“Today’s announcement shows that New Jersey will fight for environmental justice….I look forward to being a partner in this endeavor, which will be a game changer for open space,” Ruiz added.
The governor’s office said that over the past few years, NJ Transit and the Open Space Institute—a conservation group based in New York City—have been in talks with the Norfolk Southern Corporation for the purchase of the land around the abandoned rail line, which now will be possible with the state’s support.
“Without question, this deal underscores all the merits of public-private partnerships and strategic land protection in one package,” said Open Space Institute President and CEO Kim Elliman. “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.”
“This once-in-a-generation opportunity will soon become reality and OSI could not be prouder of the role we played to negotiate the deal, bring stakeholders together, and generate public and private support for the initiative.”
The state’s acquisition of the land additionally allows its potential future use for mass transit purposes, alongside recreational uses.