Testimony on the PATH extension to the NEC Station

On November 29, Regional Plan Association (RPA) submitted testimony to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey on the proposed extension of the PATH system from Newark Penn Station to a new station at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).

RPA strongly supports the PATH extension to the NEC Station because it would increase transit access to Newark Airport, improve connectivity for the residents of Newark’s South Ward, and enhance the capacity of the overall PATH system.

First: Expanding EWR rail access for lower Manhattan, Jersey City, and Newark residents will help meet increased air passenger demand, transfer pressure away from LGA and JFK, and reduce roadway congestion.

The demand for air travel has grown exponentially since World War II, driven by advances in aviation technology, population growth and income growth. All signs indicate that growth will continue as air travel becomes increasingly important in an interconnected global economy.

By the mid-2030s, air passenger demand in the region is expected to rise by almost 50% from its current 109 million passengers per year to over 150 million. Newark Airport alone is expected to have 37.1 million annual passengers in 2018, 41.6 million in 2026, and 48 million by 2037.  If we wish to avoid having this expected increase in air passengers clog up our highways, the Port Authority must expand transit access to Newark International Airport.  

EWR will not only see an increase in air passengers but also faces impending increases in

demand for transit links coming from increased job opportunities at EWR, congestion on the region’s highways, expense reimbursement policy changes, lower-cost airline services at EWR, and tourists visiting the World Trade Center Memorial. By providing a direct link for these passengers from Newark airport to Newark residents, Jersey City, and Lower Manhattan, the Port Authority could drastically reduce the number of cars on the road. Additionally, providing PATH access to EWR would shift passenger pressure away from JFK and LGA airports. Such a move would help balance air traffic among the region’s three major airports, and enable better utilization of EWR’s facilities. Altogether, RPA estimates these increases in demand would generate over three million additional annual riders on the PATH extension to EWR.

Second: The PATH Extension to the NEC Rail Link Station has the potential to bring investment, jobs, and housing to the Dayton neighborhood.

Newark’s South Ward and specifically the Greater Dayton area, though strategically located, is one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city. It has a declining population, more segregation and lower household incomes than the rest of the city. Roughly half of Newark’s population identifies as black only and 34 percent identify as Hispanic of any race. In contrast, 79 percent of Greater Dayton’s population identifies as black only with approximately 19 percent who identify as Hispanic of any race. While Newark’s median household income of $33,960 is relatively low in comparison to figures for the state, Greater Dayton’s median income is even lower, at $11,587.

This neighborhood’s proximity to Newark Liberty Airport as well as to other economic hubs like Hoboken and Lower Manhattan could offer numerous job connections for residents and make the neighborhood an attractive place to live but for its poor public transportation connections. Few bus lines service the area, and the existing EWR Northeast corridor station, though just one mile away, is not accessible by bike, bus, car or foot. Low rates of vehicle ownership, compounded by this limited public transportation options, have resulted in extensive commute times for Greater Dayton’s resident workers.

The installation of an accessible PATH train station connected to the NEC station could reduce isolation and help connect and revitalize the neighborhood. This could increase jobs available for residents and boost business traffic from through-commuters. In the past, PATH station installation increased land values within one half and two miles of the station by 18 and 9 percent respectively. Introducing a PATH station to the area would also likely increase the number of residences and reduce overall industrial usage, likely yielding higher density population and the overall economic productivity of the land.

Third: The PATH Extension’s proposed addition of extra rail yards and would increase the system’s ability to purchase and house additional trains and improve overall connectivity in the region.

Residents are flocking to trains faster than public transportation infrastructure can expand, making for more cramped and unattractive transit commutes. A brief analysis of in-progress or future apartments in Jersey City shows the city expects to expand by some 25% in the next five to ten years. For years, we’ve known that PATH system will need to expand its capacity – the number of trains in its fleet and how accessible its stations are to potential passengers – to accommodate the impending surge in ridership demand. The proposed NEC station offers at least a part of the necessary solution to this problem by offering the PATH system a place to house its fleet. (The other portion – Automated Train Control – is already on its way). This extension also potentially creates a better connection for Newark or southern New Jersey residents to commute into Lower Manhattan.

RPA’s support for the PATH extension comes on the condition that the Port Authority integrate local resident leadership into the planning process and ensure that new plans harmonize with existing city plans for the area and incorporate good design.

The Port Authority to ensure that a community process proceeds in tandem with the PATH extension. This should create a development vision that aligns with overall city development plans, and works to ensure residents benefit from any growth that occurs.

Without explicitly targeting equity, transit projects like the NEC PATH extension can result in rising housing costs and displacement of existing residents, especially if the nearby neighborhoods house predominantly low-income tenants without rental protections. The City and Port Authority will need Greater Dayton exemplifies the kind of neighborhood that would have high risk of displacement if and when land values increase.

Existing plans should also be considered, such as Newark’s Master Plan and the Newark Housing Authority Transformation Plan. As plans for the PATH extension move forward, it will be imperative to continue to actively include community and city leadership in the planning process to ensure that the PATH extension does not infringe on promised and desired neighborhood improvements. Also, close community collaboration is required to ensure current residents continue have access to the employment and quality of life benefits that can accompany such a transit enhancement.

RPA urges a comprehensive study to ensure safe pedestrian access to the new station, improved local bus circulator routes to connect into the neighborhood, and strong consideration of technology be considered in any parking construction at the station.

Safe pedestrian access will require narrower streets, safer crossings, and general traffic calming along Frelinghuysen Ave and other nearby streets. Truck traffic will need to be studied in depth in the environmental review, so that trucks conflict as little as possible with people traveling to the station.