Speaking Tuesday at the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City, Somerville mayor Brian Gallagher said transit-oriented development has been mutually beneficial for his borough and the state.
By obtaining a designation from the state as a "transit village," Somerville can attract developers while positioning itself for greater access to dedicated grant funding, technical assistance and extra points on other applications.
And for NJ Transit, the bottom line is more clear-cut. A successful transit village means more customers.
"Our drive is economic development," Gallagher said. "Their drive is butts in seats…They fit."
Gallagher was part of a panel on the topic featuring officials from NJ Transit and the state Department of Transportation.
DOT director of statewide planning Andrew Swords said that currently, the state has 27 transit villages but considering new applications.
"We set the bar high to maintain the integrity of the transit village brand but we want towns and cities to succeed," Swords said.
Swords said that in addition to whatever financial assistance the designation allows for, it also helps municipalities send a "clear signal" to the development community that it is serious about transit-oriented development.
"There needs to be a municipal willingness to grow around that transit facility."
According to the panel, some 75 percent of New Jersey residents live within five miles of a transit center.
Officials added that despite 26 of the 27 transit villages currently having train stations, rail is not the sole focus behind the designation. Municipalities featuring bus, ferry and other transportation options are encouraged to apply.
"It is one piece of infrastructure in a multimodal infrastructure system," NJ Transit assistant director of transit friendly development Vivian Baker told the crowd.
Baker added that now is as good of a time as ever to embark on transit-oriented development projects given that the recently passed Economic Opportunity Act "has a strong transit focus in it."
Officials pointed to Somerville as a successful model for transit villages.
Gallagher and borough director of economic development Colin Driver said a 10-year process to redevelop Somerville as a transit hub has seen hundreds of millions in investment, a rise in downtown property values and increased interest from the development community.
"They're coming to us now," Gallagher said of developers.