Photo of NJT Hoboken Terminal
NJT's Hoboken Rail Terminal

NJ Transit board meetings are usually sleepy affairs where the politically-appointed board members almost invariably vote in unison, ignoring public input. But the one on January 15 set some kind of record for controversy. The meeting had been postponed from January 10 due to a lack of quorum, then rescheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a state and federal holiday -- an unusual time for a meeting.  But these are unusual times: January 15 was the last full day of the Christie administration, which had made it clear that it wanted a Hoboken land deal to go through.  Incoming Governor-elect Phil Murphy, who takes office on January 16, had voiced opposition to the deal.  In the end, for reasons that may remain mysterious, the NJT board took the controversial deal off the agenda, dealing a victory to opponents that included both the former and new mayors of Hoboken, where the land in question is located.

Central to the controversy is the private ferry service operated by New York Waterway; the company operates ferries from a number of points on both sides of the Hudson, but an important link, certainly in NJT's estimation, is its service from NJT's  Hoboken rail terminal to points in Manhattan. The ferry company needs a place to maintain its fleet; it had one, in Weehawken, but 20 years ago sold that facility to a developer but while continuing to lease it back for its maintenance base. Apparently the company did not foresee its expanded future role in marine transportation, and now the real estate developer wants the land for development. This leaves the company potentially without a maintenance base, which it hints could be the end of its services.

One of the few remaining riverfront land tracts in the area is the Union Dry Dock property in Hoboken.  The city of Hoboken has plans to complete its waterfront park system by acquiring the property through eminent domain. The ferry company would love to use it for their maintenance base. Enter NJ Transit, a state agency which arguably has the right to trump Hoboken's ability to condemn the land for its planned park. NJT wants to buy the property and lease it back to the ferry company, preserving the ferry operation, which NJT sees as vital to its commuter services. The ferries could become even more important if a tunnel failure handicaps NJT's trains to Manhattan; during construction last summer, many NJT trains were sent to Hoboken, and many riders then used NY Waterway ferries to reach Manhattan. NJT picked up the fares for the rerouted riders.

With the issue unresolved, and the Governor's mansion changing hands, the issue is  bound to crop up again. Reporting on the issue can be found by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media and Patrick McGeehan for the New York Times.