From Essex County Commissioners:
Recently, I had the much anticipated and long-awaited opportunity to stand with Gov. Phil Murphy and a coalition of elected officials, community leaders and civic organizations, as the governor announced that the State of New Jersey would purchase the land upon which the Essex-Hudson Greenway—a 9-mile, 100-foot wide linear park and shared-use trail connecting Montclair to Jersey City—would be created. It was more than 10 years ago that I first heard of what was then being called The Iron and Ice Trail and committed myself to turning this idea into a reality. Of all the obstacles and challenges faced along the way, acquiring the entire stretch of land, ensuring that the Greenway would run continuously from Montclair to Jersey City, was perhaps the most critical element. I am grateful to Gov. Murphy for having the foresight to recognize the Essex-Hudson Greenway as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and taking this crucial step.
When completed, the Essex Hudson Greenway will pass through eight municipalities in Essex and Hudson Counties and will become the newest addition to our state park system. It will connect neighborhoods, expand greenspace, strengthen local business, provide much-needed transportation alternatives, offer new recreational space to underserved communities, and be, in Governor Murphy’s words, “a crown jewel in our state park system, and one of the top five developments” in his time as Governor.
However, we still have a long way to go. We cannot afford to take our eye off the ball or wait another 10 years before we can deliver the essential benefits of this project to our communities. We must channel the momentum from this landmark moment to maintain the same sense of urgency for the new planning and construction phase of the Greenway. We must be meticulous in our planning on issues ranging from stormwater overflow and flood mitigation to security and trail maintenance.
As with all great endeavors, this project would not have been possible without the contributions of key partners, supporters and stakeholders. We would not be where we are now without the diligent efforts of the Open Space Institute, the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, the September 11th National Memorial Trail, local businesses and environmental leaders, bicycling and pedestrian enthusiasts, civic groups, religious organizations, public health advocates, park supporters, and hundreds of supporting entities. Along with statewide support from the public, members of New Jersey’s federal delegation in Congress – including Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, and Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill – voiced their support for this transformative legacy project.
Furthermore, in accordance with President Biden’s recently signed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, the Greenway will serve as a model for future environmentally friendly infrastructure projects across the country. It will embody the “Build Back Better” emphasis on our nation, especially as we improve our infrastructure, provide new opportunities for small businesses, and recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Equally as important, the Greenway will serve as an example of our state’s new commitment to environmental justice, reducing pollution and providing equitable mobility options for people and communities that have traditionally been victimized by large transportation projects in close proximity to their neighborhoods.
Since we launched the effort to build the Essex Hudson Greenway nearly a decade ago, our understanding and appreciation of the need for this type of green infrastructure in Essex and Hudson counties has grown exponentially. As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how crucial open public space is to densely populated communities like ours, what may have seemed visionary ten years ago is today a pressing matter of public health and quality of life. The Essex-Hudson Greenway will improve the economy and health of our communities in the short term and provide untold benefits for the environment and future generations. It will be a historical, game changing infrastructure project that will allow New Jersey to take its place as a leader in the national movement towards environmental responsibility and the promotion of a healthier lifestyle.
I remain as committed to seeing this project through to fruition as I was 10 years ago, and I look forward to continuing my work toward another great day in New Jersey’s future – the opening of this historic Greenway.
Brendan W. Gill is a Commissioner At-Large on the Essex County Board of County Commissioners and a Board Member of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. The Board of County Commissioners is the legislative body of Essex County government and is charged with matters of oversight regarding the budget, shared services, and other affairs under the county’s auspices. He is the father of a 12-year-old and 9-year-old and lives with his wife in Montclair.