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ATLANTIC CITY-Although it may not always seem to be the case, state departments have been and continue to work closely together to promote growth in New Jersey, according to speakers at a panel entitled “Interdepartmental Coordination” at the Governor’s Conference on Housing and Economic Development, held here. Representatives from the Economic Development Authority, the Department of Environmental Protection and New Jersey Transit stressed the importance of working together and outlined plans to streamline certain processes.

“We all have to work together,” said Caren Franzini, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. “The good thing is, we’re a small state, so we all know each other, which makes it easier for all of us to support and work with each other.”

Franzini, along with fellow panelists Jen Godeski, deputy commissioner of the DEP, and Rich Andreski, chief of staff for New Jersey Transit, cited numerous examples of development projects where the departments worked closely together. One of the largest is the Wesmont Station redevelopment in Wood-Ridge, which will see a 150-acre brownfield site transformed into a transit-oriented, mixed-use development through the joint efforts of EDA, DEP and New Jersey Transit.

Unsurprisingly, considering the high cost of fuel, public transit has recently seen a resurgence, and development near rail stations has begun to boom. The state is now encouraging high-density, mixed-use development such as that planned in Wesmont, Rahway and at Newark Broad Street Station. Many areas are hoping to see the same benefits which accompanied the Hudson-Bergen light rail’s installation. According to Andreski, the light rail’s popularity brought a surge of new residents to the area and attracted billions of dollars in new investment.

Although the departments have collaborated successfully on many projects, the speakers admitted that more could be done and described the ways in which some of the departments are streamlining their activities. “DEP doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to development, but we’re working to correct that,” said Godeski. In an effort to make the permitting process less time consuming, Commissioner Lisa Jackson convened a permit efficiency task force to review the permitting process.

“Our current processes can’t keep up with the demand,” said Godeski. “The department needs to undergo some restructuring.” DEP is currently reviewing its programs in order to find areas where streamlining would be possible. In addition, DEP is planning to employ licensed site professionals to help with the backlog of contamination cases. A similar program was successfully implemented in Massachusetts several years ago.

“We’re on our way to being a kinder, gentler, more user-friendly DEP,” Godeski reassured the attendees.New Jersey Transit is also working to advance development in the state. Although, Andreski admitted, in the past New Jersey Transit and the Department of Transportation hasn’t worked well together, the two are now working on collaborating more frequently. Together, New Jersey Transit and DOT recently updated the highway access codes, which hadn’t been touched in years. In addition, New Jersey Transit is actively working with communities on its transit village program, helping towns rezone to promote mixed-use development and providing parking solutions. Finally, the company is moving forward with its $8 billion train tunnel into Manhattan, which is expected to be an enormous boon to the state’s economy. Among other things, the tunnel will provide 6,000 jobs during construction and 44,000 jobs after, and it is estimated that the increased train capacity will take up to 30,000 cars off the state’s roads and allow more commuters to easily access high-paying jobs in Manhattan.

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