Senator Frank Lautenberg’s legacy of support for America’s towns and cities

Senator Frank Lautenberg
Senator Frank Lautenberg (center) with supporters and colleagues in Paterson, NJ in 2008. Photo by Tony Fischer via Flickr.

Senator Frank Lautenberg led on an incredible range of issues during his five terms in the Senate. Creating stronger towns and cities—in New Jersey and across the country—was just one of them.

Transportation was a touchstone issue for Lautenberg during his time in office. As chair of the Surface Transportation, Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, & Security Subcommittee, Lautenberg championed passenger and high-speed rail service, especially for intercity travel and urban transit. One such project was New Jersey’s Hudson Bergen Light Rail line, which has brought commercial and residential development to the Hudson River waterfront and helped to improve the area’s neighborhoods. He worked to expand Amtrak and NJ Transit service, and helped secure funding to create NJ Transit’s Secaucus station, which now bears his name.

“By linking 10 regional rail lines, this station promises to be the economic engine that will drive smart growth development in the Meadowlands and the rest of the region,” said New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey at the station’s dedication. “It will also greatly improve the quality of life for many New Jerseyans as it provides unprecedented access to new jobs, educational opportunities, medical facilities and entertainment and recreational destinations, and more time to spend at home with their families.” Lautenberg’s support for transportation safety and infrastructure led him to at one point quip that though he is not a Rhodes scholar, he is a proud “scholar of New Jersey’s roads.”

Redevelopment was also a key issue for the Senator. In 2003 he authored a bill to provide tax incentives for charities and universities that invest in cleaning up brownfield sites. And in March he introduced the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act of 2013, a bill which would help municipalities clean up and reuse contaminated land. Lautenberg introduced the Act “in order to encourage private investment [and] return economic vitality to New Jersey’s many abandoned industrial sites.”

The BUILD Act would help communities across the country address the challenging problem of brownfields redevelopment. But the bill is also noteworthy for its bipartisan cooperation. Senators Inhofe (R-OK), Crapo (R-ID) and Udall (D-NM) joined Senator Lautenberg in introducing the Act—an accomplishment itself in a fiercely partisan Congress.

Senator Lautenberg was also a supporter of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration between HUD, DOT and EPA to help improve access to affordable housing, create more transportation options and lower Americans’ transportation costs. The Senator signed several letters of support for the Partnership programs.

“Senator Lautenberg was a champion for families as well as the places they live,” said Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America. “He helped communities across New Jersey and across the country become more vibrant and he was a model for other leaders in Congress to follow. I know we are not the only ones who will miss his strong leadership and deep passion for his work.”