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Sports authority still gridlocked over impact of American Dream on traffic

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The state authority reviewing the American Dream Meadowlands project does not yet have a timetable for its decision in the fight over the proposal's traffic impact, its head said today.

The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority met publicly today for the first time since a contentious three-hour hearing last week, during which board members heard vastly different estimates of how much traffic the project would add on game days for the New York Jets and Giants. Experts for the teams, which oppose an expansion of the project, said nearly 8,000 new cars would be on the road in the peak hour after a game, while developer Triple Five said that total is closer to 60.

The authority is now trying to sift through those estimates and decide whether to approve an expansion to the former Xanadu project, NJSEA President and CEO Wayne Hasenbalg said today. Speaking after the agency's monthly board meeting, he said "there's just no way to predict" when the review would be complete.

"We're going through a deliberative process. The top of our list, as it's always been here, is the fan experience," Hasenbalg said. "Needless to say we had a lot of input during the three-hour hearing, and we have a lot of volumes of documents and information that are being reviewed. Our experts are doing that."

The traffic issue was not on the agenda for today's board meeting, but was still raised by other attendees during a brief public comment period. Janna Chernetz, New Jersey advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, stressed the importance of mitigating congestion around the complex — not just on game days — through additional infrastructure upgrades.

"The proposed economic benefits of this project could quickly be lost if the Meadowlands region is further gridlocked as a result of inadequate transit investment," Chernetz said. She added that it was "uncertain" if bus and rail improvements outlined by current plans will be enough to support the 2.8 million-square-foot project.

Chernetz also noted recent cuts and fare hikes by NJ Transit, calling on Triple Five to contribute to the operating costs of regular bus and rail service to the project.

Alan Marcus, a spokesman for Triple Five, dismissed those concerns. He pointed to hundreds of million of dollars in infrastructure improvements around the complex and the region, which have been made in recent years by the state and previous developers.

At last week's hearing, state Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson cited more than $800 million in improvements that have been made or are planned for the area. That includes some $300 million that resulted from the November 2006 resolution of a lawsuit involving the teams, the former Xanadu developers and the sports authority, he said.

"All of these ridiculous hysterical predictions of a 'car-mageddon' — all that does is unnecessarily paint a picture that's just not real," Marcus said today.

Chernetz noted that she was not opposed to the American Dream project.

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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