A memorandum released by the Borough Council yesterday — after two months of negotiations between the Borough, Township and University over community transit issues — outlines a plan for a right-of-way easement that would allow for a potential light rail system running all the way to Nassau Street should a new system ever replace the Dinky.
The memorandum, if approved by the Borough Council and Township Committee, would go into effect if and when the Princeton Regional Planning Board gives final approval of the University’s proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood, which cannot happen until after the University’s requested zoning ordinance for the area is approved by both municipalities. The zoning ordinance is currently under review by the planning board.
Most prominent in the memorandum is a provision to preserve a right-of-way where a light rail system connecting the current Dinky station to Nassau Street could potentially be built. The light rail system, as proposed, would run through Borough, Township and University land. Under the agreement, all three parties would give their approval for the right-of-way.
The memorandum describes a light rail track that would depart from the existing Dinky track and veer west to Alexander Street to skirt the University’s Arts and Transit Neighborhood, then turn east to run along University Place up to Nassau Street. The light rail track would depart from the foundation of the existing track either at the point of the relocated station or at some point further south along the track.
University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee ’69 said that the right-of-way agreement would not mandate a significant alteration to the University’s building plans for the Arts and Transit Neighborhood.
“We’ll figure out a good place for this right-of-way and then we’ll protect that,” Durkee explained. He said that the University’s current proposal allows for multiple possible pathways wide enough for a light rail vehicle.
Anita Garoniak, the founder of the community group Save the Dinky, said she was unsatisfied with the proposal. She said that she was not opposed to a potential light rail track to Nassau Street, but said that diverging the light rail track toward Alexander Street and then back to University Place was unnecessary.
“We already have a station that’s pointed toward Nassau Street. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” Garoniak said.
In the memorandum, the University would also agree “that if the present station terminus is moved to the proposed new location, it will take no action to move the station farther south” as long as the Dinky continues operation.
“We’ve never had any expectation that we would move it further or would want to move it further [from the proposed relocation],” Durkee said.
The memorandum also stipulates that the University will seek New Jersey Transit’s approval to open the building that was formerly at the location of Dinky station, 100 feet north of the existing station on the current platform. The building, which is owned by the University but operated by NJ Transit, contains restrooms and heated waiting areas.
The agreement provides that the University may close the waiting room after six months if by that time the Arts and Transit Neighborhood has not been finally approved by the Planning Board.
“It seems strange that zoning and land-use approvals can be traded off for bathrooms and waiting areas,” Garoniak said.
The memorandum also orders the creation of a task force with representatives from the University and both municipalities to conduct a formal study of the community’s long-term transit needs. The University will provide 50 percent of the cost of the study and each of the municipalities will pay 25 percent of the cost. This task force would be established when the University files its application to the planning board for the Arts and Transit Neighborhood.
The memorandum also revealed that the University agreed to contribute $250,000 to establish a trust fund to be spent on studies and projects for improvement of the community’s transit needs and to renew for two more years the $10,000 payment that it made this year to the Free B jitney shuttle service. The University would help to fund a shuttle service to bring passengers from collection points in both municipalities to the Dinky station.
The memorandum describes the new station that the University would build 460 feet south of the existing station, which would be constructed adjacent to a convenience store and would include a 24-hour indoor waiting area, an ATM, bike lockers and an electronic shuttle locator providing arrival and departure information for TigerTransit buses. The agreement states that the University would schedule its TigerTransit buses to meet the Dinky schedule during peak hours to bring commuters to the station.
Borough councilman Roger Martindell, one of the Borough’s representatives on the negotiating team that drafted the memorandum, called it “the best we could get” under the conditions of negotiation.
“I’m not entirely satisfied with this memorandum of understanding,” Martindell said. “I don’t think it does enough for transportation in our community. I look forward to the public discussion on the subject, but since the whole Arts and Transit Neighborhood Project has the word transit in it, we’ve got to have a discussion about transit.”
Martindell said that he has not decided whether he will vote in support of the memorandum.
Township Committee member Bernie Miller echoed Martindell’s assessment. He said that as a condition of working with the University, the negotiating commission had to accept the premise that the University has the legal right to move Dinky station.
“I’m not saying that that right is indisputable,” Miller said. “Starting from that premise, we began to negotiate what I would characterize as the best deal that we could for the municipalities.”