Morris Canal Greenway Makes Headway

New Jersey’s Morris Canal is getting a new lease on life as a pedestrian and bicycle greenway. The Morris Canal Greenway Working Group, founded in 2012 by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), has successfully pushed to rehabilitate the 102 mile canal right of way into a new greenway – with ongoing projects in Clifton, Paterson, Jersey City, and Pompton Lakes.

Proposed route of the Morris Canal Greenway. Source:  <a href="https://sites.google.com/site/morriscanalworkinggroup/">Morris Canal Working Group</a>
Proposed route of the Morris Canal Greenway. Source: Morris Canal Working Group

The Morris Canal was originally a nineteenth century iron and coal freight corridor connecting the Delaware and Hudson Rivers. The canal ceased operation in 1924 due to rail competition. Its ownership then passed to the State of New Jersey. Since, then the canal’s right of way has been unused.[1]

The Morris Canal Working Group is rehabilitating the old canal right of way. Since 2012, it has compiled and sponsored county and municipal plans for Passaic County, Essex County, Morris County, Warren County, and Jersey City to use this historic right of way to promote active transportation.[2] These plans have started to move towards fruition.

The movement on the greenway started in 2012 in Passaic County (read the feasibility study here). The Working Group received a $532,566 grant from the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) to start construction on a 6.2 mile section of the greenway through Paterson and Clifton. This section also received an additional $486,000 grant from NJTPA as part of its Transportation Clean Air Measures program, with the county contributing another $250,142 in matching funds. Construction began in December of 2014. The project received an additional $202,901 from Passaic County in April 2015 to address newly identified severe safety deficiencies, bringing the total funding to $1.47 million.[3]

Jersey City has also began work on their section of the Morris Canal Greenway, as a means to increase park, recreation, and open spaces while adding a new transportation corridor in the rapidly growing city (a 5.9% population increase since 2010 [4]). The City received $5 million from the New Jersey Economic Authority to construct Berry Lane Park in October, 2014, which contains another section of the Morris Canal Greenway.[5] The city has also outlined in its Greenway Plan both a short term and long term alignment with funding and aid from NJTPA.[6]

Greenways in New Jersey. Source: New Jersey Department of Transportation and Dan Cahalane / Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center
Greenways in New Jersey. Source: New Jersey Department of Transportation and Dan Cahalane // Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center

Progress also continues elsewhere on the old canal. Pompton Lakes recently received a $24,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to construct a new section in February 2016, bringing total project funding to $123,000. However, the project has an estimated price tag of $217,000, almost $100,000 more than what Pompton Lakes has raised. But City Councilman Eric Deline stated that the borough will start work on the project and continue to search for additional funding.[7]

The Morris Canal Greenway fits New Jersey’s long term bicycle and pedestrian goals. NJDOT has created 25 biking tours across the state, including the High Point to Cape May bike route. This route will serve as the “spine that can ultimately be expanded by counties and municipalities into a network of bicycle routes and trails that stretch across the state.”[8] NJDOT has sponsored other bicycle and pedestrian greenway projects in New Jersey, including the East Coast Greenway, which connects Jersey City to Trenton.

The Morris Canal Greenway project will connect with other greenway routes, including the East Coast Greenway, the Jersey City to Hoboken Waterfront Walkway, the High Point to Cape May, the Allamuchy Allegory Ride, and the Washington Rock and Roll Tour. It will also provide an additional east-west bicycle and pedestrian spine for municipalities and counties to add to and improve access in New Jersey.

This article was written by Dan Cahalane, a Research Assistant at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center. He is currently pursuing a Masters of City and Regional Planning at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

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[1]About the Canal.” Morris Canal Greenway.

[2]About the Canal.” Morris Canal Greenway. Accessed on March 10, 2016.

[3] Jonathan Greene. “County puts $200,000 more towards Morris Canal Greenway in Paterson, Clifton.” Paterson Times. April 14, 2015.

[4]Jersey City.” US Census Quickfacts.

[5] Summer Dawn Hortilosa. “Jersey City gets $5 million in State Funds for Berry Lane Park.”  The Jersey Journal. October 24, 2014.

[6] RBA Group and North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. “City of Jersey City Morris Canal Greenway Plan.”

[7]  Leslie Scott. “Pompton Lakes awarded DEP grant.” NorthJersey.com. February 22, 2016.

[8]Biking in New Jersey: Tour Guides.” New Jersey Department of Transportation.8

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