GCL line is transportation necessity for South Jersey

I live within a stone’s throw from the Conrail tracks that carry long, speeding freight trains past my house every day and night. When I first moved to my home, I had some concerns about the trains. Today, like with the sound of airplanes roaring low to land in nearby Philadelphia, I hardly hear the noise. Many of my neighbors say the same.

In approximately five years, the Conrail right-of-way will have another purpose. From Rowan University in Glassboro to the Eds and Meds Corridor in Camden, a light rail train line, known as the GCL, will be built to benefit thousands of commuters.

In this day, where mass transportation is a key component to any thriving region, it is hard to believe that the GCL is only the third commuter train system to service our expanding communities. While there are vast commuter train systems found in North Jersey (PATH) and Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPTA), no such integral rail system was built to benefit South Jersey. As a result, we feel the enormous traffic congestion on many of our roadways, including Route 42, recognized as one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the state.

The GCL project has taken time to develop. Following comprehensive federal guidelines, planners were careful to conduct an alternatives analysis to determine the most effective rail route to alleviate traffic. A detailed analysis determined that the best route alternative was to utilize the Conrail right-of-way. Thereafter, nationally recognized transportation experts conducted an Environmental Impact Study. This is a time-consuming task to ensure the light rail will meet all environmental standards. The EIS draft report was recently published, with a final report expected soon in advance of preliminary engineering. State funds, long dedicated to finance North Jersey transportation projects, will finally come south to advance the planning.

While these preliminary efforts are time-consuming, they are necessary to ensure that we build the most effective rail system for the needs of our region. Dozens of public hearings were conducted during the studies. I had the opportunity to attend many, and appreciated all the feedback we received. What I heard was overwhelmingly supportive. From many residents and local officials, I heard excitement, because the evidence from similar lines shows an increase in property values and economic boom for businesses in and around the train stations.

The GCL project is a vital transportation link for South Jersey. One that is long overdue. Certainly, no such project is without some detractors, but the benefits of this critical transportation project are significant. Christina Renna, CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey recently said it best, “The process of to make GCL a reality has been a long one, but one that will pay dividends to the residents and businesses of South Jersey once completed.

I agree with the chamber and many other project advocates. The GCL will serve to reduce our carbon footprint, increase property values for homeowners, spark economic opportunities for businesses and provide a convenient means of transportation for workers, students and those who want easy access to the universities, hospitals and cities.

Jeffrey L. Nash is a Camden County commissioner and Delaware River Port Authority vice chair.