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How Public Perception of Light Rail Influences Its Economic Benefits

Negative stereotypes of light rail — in particular its unsubstantiated ability to generate crime — may have hurt property values along a new line in south Jersey, according to a new study.
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Flickr/Kyle Gradinger

The River Line of New Jersey Transit opened in 2004. The line, which is considered light rail but also kind of functions as a commuter rail, serves 20 stations in the intercity Trenton-Camden corridor. The state-funded project cost about $1.1 billion to construct and was sold to the public largely through anticipated economic benefits to the main two cities and the area along the line.

Transit advocates can point to a long list of empirical research showing the developmental benefits of light rail systems. A fairly recent study of light rail in Portland found that plans for the system encouraged high-density, transportation-oriented development in the station areas. Other work done around that time, looking at light and commuter rail in Santa Clara, found clear premiums for commercial land near the stations. More recent research on light rail in Buffalo documented a 2 to 5 percent premium on home values near a station as well.