Essex County elected leaders overwhelmingly endorse greenway project

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Local, county and state elected leaders from Essex County and the city of Newark, in collaboration with representatives from several community groups and the Essex–Hudson Greenway Coalition, came together recently to offer their endorsement of the linear park project and offer deeper insight into the current status and positive community impact of the greenway.

For walkers, runners, cyclists, hikers and others, the proposed Essex–Hudson Greenway would create nearly 9 miles of linear park, connecting Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus and Jersey City.

Offering their full support and endorsement of the project during the virtual meeting were state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz; Newark Council members Anibal Ramos Jr. and Luis A. Quintana; and Essex County Commissioners Brendan W. Gill and Robert Mercado. The event was presented by the Open Space Institute and its partners — the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance — and was sponsored by Ramos, the Mount Prospect Partnership and the Forest Hill Community Association.

“The greenway will be a true asset to the state of New Jersey. When we think of an area such as Essex County, an urban county for all intents and purposes, our ability to restore and create new open spaces is limited,” Ruiz said. “Since I first took office, this (project) has been an ideal dream, something which I thought would be very easy. Fast forward, nearly a decade later, alongside some very strong advocates, the dream that I thought about has become a real magnet for what I know will be a true asset for the Garden State.”

In January 2020, OSI secured a time-limited purchase agreement with Norfolk Southern for the purchase of the former Boonton Line, an abandoned rail line traversing eight municipalities in Essex and Hudson counties. Having already secured one extension to finalize the deal, time is running out to complete the purchase of the property. Under terms of the $65 million purchase agreement, the transfer deadline is Dec. 31. 

“I consider myself a proud supporter of this project. Along with Councilman Quintana, I sponsored a City Council resolution in support of this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not only for the North Ward, but for the corridor that connects Montclair and Jersey City, and has a big chunk of the city of Newark involved,” Ramos said. “On the municipal side, we are definitely all on board in supporting this and doing whatever we can to advocate (for the project). This 135-acre linear park is a unique opportunity for us to transform the area and I am hopeful we are in a position where we can take advantage of this. Let’s take this to the finish line.”

According to a presentation made during the meeting by Debra Kagan, executive director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, the Greenway spans an average of 100 feet or more in width throughout its route, and has the potential to reduce traffic congestion and help mitigate stormwater issues in the area. In light of Hurricane Ida on Sept. 1, which ravaged significant parts of New Jersey, the project represents a “build back better” response to the proposed Biden infrastructure bill, addresses recommendations of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report by the United Nations, and answers the demands of elected officials related to severe weather events and climate change.

“Over the years, over the decades, the neglect of that railroad and the impact it has had on our North Ward community has been devastating,” Mercado said. “This opportunity to expand the green space and recreational space for our kids is invaluable. It is going to provide new transportation options to residents. From an environmental standpoint, we can begin to see green space open throughout the corridor. The economic impact will promote new businesses around the corridor. Each of the municipalities will come closer by way of this project. This project will have an impact for generations to come.”

Residents of communities all along the proposed length of the linear park have been campaigning for more than a decade to create a greenway that would serve as a “shared-use path” for people walking, riding a bicycle, running, rolling or just relaxing along this corridor. 

“This project is so exciting for all of us,” said Dan Zanella of the Forest Hill Community Association. “One of the most interesting things for us is the return of this space to an active, beautiful community amenity. One that is accessible to everyone in the community, one that connects us to our neighboring communities, and improves the quality of life, offers wellness opportunities.”

For more information on the Essex–Hudson Greenway Project, visit www.essexhudsongreenway.org.

“This project is … bigger than any one individual or any one group. The project was brought to my attention over a decade ago, but its goal remains the same — to bring communities together in our county and to help promote a healthy and sustainable way of life,” Gill said. “I truly believe this is a transformational project that will affect our county and our region in a positive way for generations to come.”

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