Rebuilding the AirTrain Can Spur Equitable Growth in Newark – Part 1

In a few weeks, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is expected to announce a “refreshed” 10-year capital plan that officials have been hinting at for months. Officials say the capital plan will be in a draft form through the late spring and summer, and will be finalized in September.

The PANYNJ capital plan is already oversubscribed, so it will be interesting to see how the agency balances the many competing demands for port, rail, bus, aviation, bridge, and tunnel investments.

A new contender for funding is Governor Murphy’s recent proposal for a new AirTrain at Newark Airport. A rebuilt AirTrain could support the Governor’s focus on growth, equity, sustainability, and government efficiency by:

  • Providing direct rail transit access to members of Weequahic/Dayton/South Ward neighborhoods and surrounding communities;
  • Supporting business growth in the heart of communities that need more access to jobs;
  • Motivating the generation of new revenues for transit
  • Addressing the inequitable treatment of transit riders by levying a passenger pick-up and drop-off fee on vehicles accessing Newark Airport terminals directly (transit passengers pay to access the airport while private vehicles are able to access airport terminals for free); and
  • Using new funds for increased government efficiency through public private partnerships or other innovations in infrastructure procurement.

Looking at the longer term, a rebuilt AirTrain could also lay the groundwork for airport expansion options that are needed for the region’s long-term economic strength. It could also demonstrate the feasibility of new driverless transit technologies.

Connecting to Community

Residents who live in Newark’s South Ward cannot access the Newark rail station directly – there is no way to get from Frelinghuysen Avenue into the station.

The lack of access to the station cuts the community off from employment opportunities around the region by making their transit trips longer than they need to be. It also makes it less attractive for airport-related businesses to invest in the Weequahic neighborhood, because hotel visitors, workers, and others can’t access NJ Transit rail or the airport.

The reason for this is that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limits Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) revenues – the funding source for the station – to investments that can be “used only by airport patrons and workers.” To date, these rules have precluded nearby residents or employees from getting to the airport station directly.

Rebuilding the AirTrain system now – with funding that is not as constrained as PFCs – could allow planners to revisit past decisions that cut off neighbors from economic opportunity.

Tomorrow’s post will examine more specific ideas about how to strengthen the community’s connection to the regional rail network, and how to create opportunities for airport-related business to grow and hire in Newark’s South Ward.


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