Seventeen years after New Jersey solicited ideas for a huge shopping complex in the Meadowlands, the American Dream project is scheduled to finally, partially open in three months. Its neighbor is concerned about the impacts on already crowded roads.

Very concerned.

“Well, I think the traffic’s going to be a nightmare, no matter how you look at it,” said Secaucus Mayor Mike Gonnelli. “I mean, Route 3 now is at a dead stop, and they’re not even open yet.”

“They’re talking about 40 to 60 million people (a year) coming from New York to New Jersey,” he said. “The only way to get there is through Route 3 West into that area. We’re the bottleneck on Route 3 West. It’s where traffic is going to happen. We’re concerned about it spilling over into our roadways.”

Gov. Phil Murphy doesn’t disagree: “It’s a concern. It’s a rightful concern.”

“I believe that if it were at capacity, there would be 16,000 (employees), never mind the people who were going to shop or go to the water park or eat or whatever,” he said. “And again, that’s a good thing. It’s a boon. It’s going to be big employment boon for the state. But the transportation plan still lacks the clarity and the depth that we need. There’s no other way to put it. And that’s a work in progress.”

Gonnelli said it’s frustrating that there isn’t a comprehensive plan in place.

“They had 17 years of notice, so I think they had a lot of notice,” Gonnelli said.

“If you come to Secaucus and you want to get out of town at 4 o’clock, you can’t do it. They’re doing work on our overpass, work on Ridge Road’s overpass. There’s work going on on 495. So a lot of activity here, and it’s not going to be done in the next year or so. Traffic will be a nightmare for us,” he said.

NJ Transit’s fiscal 2020 budget, adopted Wednesday, allocates $8 million for buses and bus drivers for service to American Dream. Murphy said it’s appropriate to devote NJT resources to that, despite the agency’s ongoing financial and operational struggles.

“We want as safe and as free-flowing a commuting and transportation pattern as possible,” Murphy said.

“We have to be in an and/both state and not an either/or,” he said. “We clearly have to get the 900,000 commuters to work and school or wherever they’re headed safely, reliably, and home on time. There’s no question that’s job number one. But this is going to be a massive operation.”

Gonnelli said the bus service will only put a small dent in Secaucus’ concerns.

“I don’t know that it will help with anything because quite honestly, the buses are going to run out of Secaucus because that’s where our train station is that leads there. Several buses are going to come out of the Port Authority. So buses are just going to add more traffic to the roadway,” he said. “It’ll help that they’re not using cars. I’m sure that’ll help somewhat. But even buses will add more traffic to that highway.”

Gonnelli said his concerns aren’t limited to traffic. He said the complex is an aesthetic problem, given that one community in Secaucus sits directly across from it – an in-your-face issue not posed on other area towns.

He’s also unhappy that under an agreement the mall’s developers had reached years ago with area towns, Secaucus will receive $100,000 a year for two years, then $200,000 a year after that. He said $100,000 isn’t enough for his town to pay a police officer, including the costs of benefits.

American Dream is scheduled to open Oct. 25. Gonnelli said one of the project’s owners told him Tuesday that the initial opening would include things such as the complex’s water park, amusement park, snow slide and ice rink.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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