NJ Transit postpones vote on controversial Hoboken waterfront plan

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

It felt a lot like a crowded NJ Transit platform, with more than 200 people cramming into the lobby of the agency’s offices, and only one way to get up to the ninth floor meeting. As a microcosm for all the things that troubles this agency, it was apt. Hoboken mayor Ravi Bhalla bused in about 100 residents, all eager to be heard on the agency’s proposal to buy Union Dry Dock Shipyard from NY Waterway and then lease it back to the company so it can continue to operate a maintenance facility there.

The city wants the property for a waterfront park, but the ferry service says there are no other suitable locations that make sense for them. Monday, residents, led by the mayor, got a reprieve when when NJ Transit Board Chairman Richard Hammer announced the vote was being deferred.

It was a victory for the city, whose power of eminent domain is trumped by NJ Transit’s authority over the site. It’s led to an impasse that the mayor said Monday’s delay will help to break.

“This is not an anti-NY Waterway measure. We fully support NY Waterway,” insisted the mayor. “We understand that NY Waterway is a critical element of our mass transit infrastructure in Hoboken. We look forward to working cooperatively with NY Waterway to identify means to expand ferry service regionally and also lower the cost of ferry service to make sure that it’s something, in terms of a mode of transportation, that can be utilized by more people.”

But NY Waterway says the 3-acre Union Dry Dock Shipyard, which has been in operation for 130 years, is the best option for the company, and ultimately, passengers.

“Any other option is going to cost more money to run the operation and, ultimately, if you increase the cost of the operation, you’re daring a fare increase somewhere down the line,” countered NY Waterway chair, Armand Pohan. “We haven’t increased our fares in seven years, but if we have to move to a remote site to run a maintenance operation, that would be very damaging to the operation, to the 30,000 people who ride the service and to the emergency services functions that we perform.”

Monday’s action puts the onus on the incoming governor, who was not at the meeting, but did call for the vote to be postponed. Sources say state lawmakers from the area are working behind the scene to identify alternative sites, which may include Bayonne or even Brooklyn. City officials say they’re willing to talk, as does NY Waterway. The hope is that Monday’s vote to delay the sale will facilitate that.