Meadowlands mall traffic a concern for emergency response officials

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

82,000 football fans jammed MetLife Stadium for the 2014 Super Bowl — a game that ended in a transit debacle, overwhelming NJ Transit’s train service on the Meadowlands spur. American Dream Meadowlands expects to draw almost twice that many people, with most patrons coming by bus and car along Route 3 in Secaucus. Emergency response officials there worry.

“When they were having the Super Bowl there, that was like 80,000 people at the stadium. They planned for that for like two years. I look at, with American Dream there now, that’s like having a Super Bowl there every day with more people,” said Vincent Massaro, coordinator for Secaucus Office of Emergency Management.

“A couple months from now you may see a line of cars backed up from the right lane of Route 3 all the way down to the Lincoln Tunnel, potentially, and that’s the unknown. I don’t know what traffic studies were done. The information released to us is very limited,” said Secaucus Police Capt. Dennis Miller.

Route 3 is a state highway but it’s patrolled by locals. It’s a big job considering 1,000 buses and more than 70,000 vehicles compete for road space daily, according to a 2012 Chamber of Commerce study. It grinds to a halt during the rush. With American Dream adding hundreds more buses and thousands more cars, officials say it will make their response time longer.

“There’s more accidents, there’s more cars disabled, so now we’re taking officers from the town and they’re out on Route 3 dealing with all of the traffic,” said Secaucus Police Chief Kevin Flaherty.

EMS from Hudson Regional Hospital will station two extra ambulances at American Dream. The Meadowlands has a fire department with one engine and one truck so the Secaucus Fire Department is designated as the second alarm responder if problems erupt. Both have to negotiate Route 3 traffic.

“It will absolutely delay a response. And again, we’re a volunteer department so there’s various members coming from all areas of town that have to get to a firehouse in order to roll the rig. So depending on where they’re coming from it may delay them,” said Secaucus Fire Chief Carl Leppin.

Secaucus isn’t the only town that’s concerned. American Dream is located in East Rutherford in Bergen County, where the mayor’s hoping developer Triple Five has a handle on this, especially since NJ Transit’s not planning to provide train service to the Meadowlands station except on game days.

“Triple Five, they need to get people there so I’m sure they’re concerned about traffic, too. But they’ve also been successful in Minnesota and Edmonton, granted, this is a different ballgame here because you’re on a major thoroughfare heading into New York City. It’ll be interesting to say the least,” said East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella.

Bergen County’s sheriff isn’t in the loop, saying in a statement, “We haven’t received the large, formal briefing yet that we’d like from the state.”

Secaucus, in Hudson County, isn’t comfortable with a wait-and-see attitude. American Dream won’t respond to their, or NJTV News’, requests for more information.

“He said, ‘We have to see what happens,'” said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli, “but that doesn’t cut it for me because we’re going to be faced with this when it happens.”

American Dream Meadowlands opens Friday, Oct. 25. It’s a weekend when neither team has a game scheduled. Timing is everything, and that affords it the least amount of traffic stress for its debut.