BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Township Council has approved an ordinance authorizing the execution of an agreement for the option to purchase property at 360 Milltown Road – and the goal is to potentially turn that property into a NJ Transit Train Station.
“The ordinance is allowing us to have the option to buy the property on Milltown,” Mayor Dan Hayes said. “We will be asking NJ Transit to conduct a feasibility study for getting a train station.”
Hayes said this is a project he has been working on for years, in line with his vision for the township that encompasses four elements: fiscal responsibility to remain the lowest tax quartile of the county municipalities; remaining vigilant in land use; providing essential services to residents; and building infrastructure in the town.
Hayes said the township has been looking at several factors affecting the township over the years, beginning with the fact that the economy has still not recovered and residents are losing income.
“And we have excess office space,” he said. “Bridgewater has more than anywhere else, and we have the slower pace of utilizing it in the county.”
In addition, Hayes said, the township is not attracting its share of the 20- to 35-year-old demographic.
“They are the demo driving a lot of decisionmaking for jobs and housing pressures,” he said. “What we need to have is a community attracting them, and tell employees this is the place to be.”
Hayes said they believe that commuting is the key to sustainability in the township and bringing that age group into the township.
“We are looking at taking advantage of the Raritan Valley Line,” he said.
The Milltown area of town, Hayes said, is a transit village, the most dense area of town residentially, plus the train line already runs through there.
“The terrain supports the idea of a large number of people,” he said. “And the property value increase could be between $20 million and $30 million. We are setting up the community to continue its competitiveness.”
Hayes said that aerial views of the area on Milltown Road show that many of the people in the area would be able to walk or ride a bicycle to the train station because of their close proximity. Others coming from Branchburg, Flemington and other areas of Bridgewater could park in a parking garage that is part of the vision for the land.
A train station on Milltown Road will be a powerful thing for the township, Hayes said, both for people commuting to New York City and for those coming to Bridgewater for work in the many pharmaceutical and other companies.
The ordinance approved by the council provides an option to purchase the property for the purpose of the train station for 18 months for $15,000, and the right to extend that option another six months for $5,000 if the NJ Transit feasibility study has not been completed.
Township administrator James Naples said the funds for the purchase will come out of the capital improvement budget.
But some residents expressed concern at Monday’s meeting about the effect this new station could have on traffic, particularly at the one-lane underpass on Milltown Road, near the property.
“I would like you to drive under the train overpass after 4 p.m.,” said Lindsley Road resident Elisabeth McConville. “It is one car at a time, and this will impact quality of life.”
McConville said she doesn’t see the need for the train station when there already is one in Bridgewater, and another close by in Raritan.
“And there is nothing to stop people from driving into our developments and parking their cars,” she said.
Vanderveer Road resident Richard Behling said he is unsure about the need for this station with even the North Branch one just a half mile away from Milltown Road.
“The traffic there is insane,” he said.
Council members said they believe this is at least worth looking into, particularly because approval of the ordinance does not indicate an approval to build the station itself.
“This is the start of a long process,” councilman Filipe Pedroso said. “I think it is worth looking at, but there are a lot of issues we have to think about.”
The next step, Hayes said, is the feasibility study, which could take up to two years.
“NJ Transit is just waiting for my request to do it,” he said. “The study determines ridership, and enables us to determine the mechanism to construct the station.”
The actual cost of the purchase of the property, if the township decides to move forward, will be $1.5 million, and there will be a bond ordinance for that.
The property currently houses the Evolution Training Center, which rents the building on the land.
“The mayor has expressed a desire to work with the tenant to continue his business in the township,” Naples said.
Hayes said everything is still in beginning stages as the feasibility study will begin soon to determine if a train station would work on that property.
Hayes said it is good to know that there will be no speculation as to what the station will look like, particularly because there is already another station on the other side of town.
“The role of transit is to service the commuters,” he said. “We know what the community looks like, and this is giving accessibility to all.”