It was standing room only at the first public meeting hosted Tuesday by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to discuss the plan to extend the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) service to Newark Liberty International Airport.

The meeting, held at the Weequahic Park Sports Authority Community Center in Newark’s South Ward, was hosted by dozens of Port Authority and city officials and provided details of the project, as well as seeking input from residents.

"We are dedicated to having an open dialogue about this project starting tonight," said PANYNJ project manager Michael Kraft.

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The preliminary plan includes the extension of the PATH Newark-to-World Trade Center line from its terminal at Newark Penn Station to a new station near the existing Airport Station in the South Ward’s Dayton neighborhood.

The Dayton neighborhood is bounded by the airport on the east and is surrounded by Routes 1 and 9, Interstate 78 and Route 22.

Components of the $1.7 million project include a new station east of Freilinghuysen Ave.—the main thoroughfare through the area—with a pedestrian overpass connection, a commuter parking facility, bus and taxi staging areas and pedestrian and bicycle pathways.

PANYNJ intends to seek federal funding from the Federal Transit Administration to support construction of the proposed project.

The plan also includes 2.4 miles of upgraded PATH tracks west of and parallel to the Northeast Corridor between Newark Penn Station and the existing Airport Station and would provide the neighborhood with a much-needed PATH station that Newark officials say could bring an economic boost to the area through increased commuter access and the creation of jobs.

City officials are also hopeful the project will attract new businesses to the area.

“It’s important that we come out and find out what’s happening in our community,” South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James said at the meeting. “This project will spur economic activity in the South Ward. It’s an exciting time, it’s a good time.”

The need for improved community access in the Dayton neighborhood was identified in the City of Newark’s 2012 Master Plan and a 2014 Newark Housing Authority plan, which support the proposed PATH Extension Project, according to the PANYNJ.

In 2014, the Newark Housing Authority drafted the Dayton Street Transformation Plan, which noted the proposed PATH extension plan could bring improved access to jobs at the airport and other destinations on the PATH line for Dayton residents.

Opened in 2001, the Airport Station is currently the only train station in Dayton and is not publicly accessible by any roads.

The station, which is located more than two miles from the closest PATH system at Newark Penn Station, serves as a transfer point on the Northeast Corridor for New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, and the airport’s AirTrain monorail.

The PANYNJ first announced the project in 2012, with a proposed 10-year capital plan announced in 2014 that included the PATH extension that was approved by the Board of Commissioners that same year.

The project is slated for completion in 2026.

Representatives from the PANYNJ told residents the project is intended to improve transit access to Newark, Jersey City and New York City for New Jersey commuters and increase transit options to Newark Liberty International Airport for travelers and airport employees.

According to PANYNJ officials, the service extension would increase travel time predictability and reduce travel time for air travelers and airport employees from areas served by existing PATH stations, including those in Lower Manhattan and Jersey City, as well as providing commuters with access from Newark’s South Ward and neighboring communities to the jobs in Newark and Lower Manhattan.

But not all residents were on board with the project.

“Our relationship with the Port Authority has not been that great,” said South Ward resident Daryl Bowen at the meeting. “I mean, let’s be real. We in the community in the South Ward haven’t had access to that station for 20 years. It’s an insult. To sit here tonight and hear this is kind of ludicrous.”

But James said residents need to look forward.

“Now we have a chance for a new station to allow us to have access to Manhattan,” he said. “Right now we have halfway houses and Methadone clinics. We want to actively involve the community and this is a good first step.”

Residents also expressed concern over the possibility of losing their homes to make way for the project.

“No one’s house is going to be torn down,” James said.

Other residents expressed optimism.

“Hopefully this project will get rid of drug dealers and clinics,” said one area resident. “I pray that this project will bring immediate change.”

PATH currently operates along four routes with 13 stations in Newark, Harrison, Hoboken, Jersey City and Lower and Midtown Manhattan and serves a growing urban environment in the NY/NJ metropolitan area.

The PATH system serves close to 280,000 passengers on an average weekday, with nearly 980,000 jobs existing within a half-mile radius of PATH stations, along with 300,000 residents living within that same radius.

PANYNJ is currently preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate the project.

Scoping is the first phase of the process, where the public, elected officials and agency representatives are given an opportunity to provide input.

The public can provide written comments by mail or via the project’s website during a 37-day scoping comment period.

Once the scoping process is complete, the EA will be prepared to assess the environmental impacts of the project.

A second meeting will be held on Thursday at the Hilton Newark Penn Station.