Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday announced the start of a $250 million project to rebuild Camden’s weathered 32-year-old Walter Rand Transportation Center into a modern hub, with better transit connections and apartments, stores and offices rising above it.
“This is a city that is constantly reinventing itself,” Murphy said, as the River Line light rail sounded its warning bells at a crossing and a PATCO train rumbled underfoot as it pulled into the Broadway station. “Let’s give this city a transit center that reflects its promising future.”
Rand, named after a late state senator from Camden, is the public transit gateway to South Jersey, linking Philadelphia and all of Camden County by PATCO, Burlington County and Trenton via the River Line, and pretty much everywhere else in the region on 24 NJ Transit bus routes.
And the proposed Glassboro-Camden Line, which would extend light rail service 18 miles to the south, “is something we’d all like to see,” Murphy said.
In many ways, the transit center has not kept up with the times, officials said. It can be hard to make connections among the rail lines and buses, and some buses load and unload passengers across the street because there isn’t enough room under cover. It also has had issues with drug dealing and homelessness.
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A modernized hub has long been considered essential to build on development downtown, including the Camden-Rutgers nursing school building and the Joint Health Sciences Center, which sits at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Broadway, just across from the Rand. Lab space in the center is shared by Rutgers, the Rowan University Cooper School of Medicine and Camden County College.
Murphy said the project would be “scalable” to include housing, retail and office spaces. NJ Transit, which owns the facility, is expected to request proposals for the architectural and engineering design for the new center in the next few weeks. There is no timeline for completion of what the governor called a multiyear project.
The project will start with an update and expansion of the transit center to take into account changes in transportation, with facilities for electric-powered buses and charging stations for cars, state officials said. Murphy said the project would be funded by NJ Transit’s capital budget, along with money from other state programs.
Assemblyman William W. Spearman, D-Camden, said commercial development had boosted the city’s tax base from $500 million in 1989, when the Rand Center opened, to nearly $2 billion. He said he looks forward to even more growth, some of it spurred by the project.
Dana L. Redd, a former mayor of Camden and state senator, cast the remake as a down payment on equity in one of the poorest cities in the nation, with a population that is 41% Black and 51% Hispanic.
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“The governor is playing the long game, making a generational investment in our city,” said Redd, now the CEO of the Rowan University/Camden-Rutgers Board of Governors.
“Years from now ... this transit hub will be a beacon of light,” she said. “It will provide young people in Camden with the ability to break barriers and travel to places they would otherwise be shut out from.”