In a stunning reversal, Metro-North Railroad said yesterday that it will not pursue construction of a new train station at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley.
The railroad advised Woodbury Supervisor Sheila Conroy – first by telephone and then by letter – that it was backing away from the plan after championing it for three years over steadfast community opposition.
"From the very beginning, we've felt we were not being listened to about how we know our traffic situation better than anybody, and about how this wasn't the right place for a train station,'' said a jubilant Conroy yesterday. "Well, they finally heard us."
Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for Metro-North, said the railroad "has always tried to work with the town in good faith."
Woodbury Common executives couldn't be reached.
Only three months ago, Metro-North told Conroy that it remained committed to the project, had completed the $330,000 environmental impact statement and was prepared to move forward.
The supervisor subsequently appealed to Orange County Executive Edward Diana for support, pointing out that a traffic and land-use study that the county is cosponsoring validates the town's position. A preliminary draft of the study was released last month.
In its letter to Conroy, Metro-North says it is "suspending all work on the environmental impact statement" for several reasons:
- The Town of Woodbury Planning Board may bow to community opposition and decline to approve the necessary changes to Woodbury Common's site plan to permit the station's construction and use of 1,800 of the outlet center's 5,750 parking spaces.
- Ridership on the Port Jervis line has fallen off since Sept. 11, 2001, despite the reopening of PATH service to lower Manhattan, the opening of the Secaucus transfer to Midtown, the purchase of new cars and the addition of more trains.
- Demand for parking is being met through additions at other Port Jervis line stations, the opening of NJ Transit's 1,250-car garage in Ramsey, N.J., the pending expansion at Beacon and the revival of commuter ferry service between Newburgh and Beacon.
- Money for the Woodbury Common project was included in the 2000-2004 capital budget and has now been redirected.
- Chelsea Property Group, the owner of Woodbury Common, is being sold to Simon Property Group and Simon may require the railroad to reopen negotiations for building and running the station.
"They're all good reasons, but I think another reason is the negative publicity,'' said Conroy. "They certainly understood there would be more of it and perhaps they have had enough. I can't imagine Simon would want any part of that, either."
Traffic at the 220-store outlet center, an international tourist attraction, regularly chokes the confluence of routes 32, 17 and 6 with the New York State Thruway and presents the town with perpetual opportunities to rail against Metro-North and the prospect of more congestion and pollution.
In addition, the Times-Herald Record has a lawsuit pending against the railroad that seeks public disclosure of its deal with Woodbury Common – specifically how much money it proposes to pay the wealthy outlet-center owner for building the station and leasing a chunk of the parking lot.
And next month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro-North's parent agency, will hold public hearings on its proposal to raise fares for the second time in 18 months to offset a $500 million deficit.
Diana, whose support for the station has been wavering in the wake of the traffic study and the town's lobbying, agreed yesterday that the plan was "not in the best interest of the community … [which is] already overburdened by the heaviest traffic congestion in Orange County."
At the same time, Diana urged Metro-North to focus its planning for inevitable future growth in ridership on the 21.5 acres surrounding its Harriman station. The station, about two miles south of Woodbury Common, has a 935-car parking lot and is the busiest of the seven in the county.
Conroy, who spoke with the county executive yesterday, welcomed his support.
"I told Metro-North the same thing, that we believe in mass transit, that we want our commuters to have good access to mass transit and that we are ready and willing to work with them toward that end – at Harriman,'' said Conroy.
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