New Jersey megamall adds travel challenges to crowded region

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The success of the long-delayed American Dream megamall and entertainment complex is tied directly to an existential question residents here face daily: How do you get there from here with the least strain on your wallet and blood pressure?

The mall’s official opening on Friday in East Rutherford, New Jersey, just outside New York City, will usher in a new era of transportation challenges for a region that already is one of the densest and most congested in the country. American Dream sits at the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 3, a heavily used east-west highway.

The mall won’t be fully opened until next spring; its theme parks, indoor ski slope, skating rink and other entertainment attractions will open in phases before the end of this year. Still, American Dream’s owners estimate it will draw 40 million visitors in its first year, an average of well over 100,000 per day.

Those who visit in the fall will vie on Sundays with football fans heading to adjacent MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants. The teams sued several years ago to try and force the mall to be closed on game days to alleviate traffic, but eventually settled in exchange for transit and road improvements.

Others fear the worst.

“This is going to be horrendous for us,” said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli, whose town is bisected by Route 3 and sits between the mall and the Lincoln Tunnel into New York. “I don’t see that much of a problem on game days on Sunday. But any other day of the week, it’s a nightmare to get out of town.”

How to get to American Dream:



Improvements have been made to the roads around the complex, but work on Route 3 west of American Dream closes a lane in each direction for a brief stretch, causing rush-hour backups. “You go down there now in rush hour and the traffic is stopped dead,” East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella said. “I see that as having a bigger effect than the American Dream project.”

Mall officials have said there are roughly 30,000 total parking spaces available at the complex’s garage and at MetLife Stadium’s parking lot, though the stadium lot will be available only on non-event days.



Parking on the opening weekend will be free but will cost after that. The prices range from $3 for up to three hours to $6 for up to eight hours. Over eight hours will cost $24.

A huge caveat: Parking will be $30 on days when there are events at MetLife Stadium, though parking tickets can be validated on those days with a purchase of a Nickelodeon Universe ticket (prices are $39.99 and $49.99).



New Jersey Transit has added express bus service every 30 minutes from New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal to the mall, for $9 each way. That’s $2 more per one-way trip than buses to Giants and Jets games at MetLife Stadium. There’s also a new express bus from the Secaucus rail station, and service also has been added on existing bus routes from Secaucus.



American Dream has partnered with NY Waterway to provide ferry service across the Hudson River with connections to bus service to the mall. A one-way ferry ticket costs $9 and the bus will cost $7 each way.



There is no dedicated direct train service to American Dream; NJ Transit operates trains from New York through Secaucus on Jets and Giants game days and for large events such as international soccer games and concerts. The train station is accessible to the mall via a pedestrian walkway over a highway.

NJ Transit has said it is considering options for possible rail service in the future but hasn’t provided details.



American Dream recently announced a partnership with Lyft to provide pickups and drop-offs for riders at a dedicated location. Under the agreement, each month a local non-profit organization will be selected to receive transportation and up to $10,000 in free tickets to one of the site’s entertainment venues.

David Porter, The Associated Press