In many ways, Cumberland County is the New Jersey county that time forgot. Small, quaint towns. Lots of farms and open space. A spread-out, uncrowded feel. Large parts of the county seem more like places you would find in the Midwest or Deep South rather than in the middle of the Northeast.
But that charm comes with a heavy price. Cumberland County is home to the poorest cities in the state. The unemployment rate - 14 percent in August - is often the highest in the state. And sadly, it often "leads" the state in a wide range of social and health problems caused by such a dismal economy.
And the lack of a modern, efficient transportation network is both a cause and an effect of the county's poverty.
It has been that way for decades - and it's an outrage. Cumberland County's transportation problems should be the easiest of its problems to address. All it would take is money and political will. Problems that involve changing human behavior are more difficult to address. Roads, rail lines, bus routes are easy by comparison.
But not easy enough. Officials have been clucking about this problem for decades, while the people of Cumberland County live with it. Many are too poor to own cars. But they can't rely on public transportation to get them to and from jobs in Philadelphia or Atlantic City in a timely fashion. Getting to shopping centers and health-care facilities is hard, too.
There are New Jersey Transit bus routes - but not enough from a riders' perspective. And there aren't enough riders to add routes, from NJ Transit's perspective. Plans to extend the Delaware River Port Authority's PATCO rail line into Cumberland County - an idea that has been studied for almost 10 years - remain on hold. "We're somewhat of a dead end regionally," Cumberland County Planning Director Robert Brewer noted recently.
That's true. But it's also reasonable to question whether there has been enough of a coordinated, multi-agency approach to solving this problem. A draft summary of a new county transportation plan recommends that the county have a transportation coordinator to organize a number of separate transportation systems and to lobby regionally for better access to and from the county. You think? It's somewhat shocking to us that Cumberland County doesn't already have a transportation coordinator.
State lawmakers, county and municipal officials and state transportation officials need to be meeting on a regular basis in an effort to find solutions to Cumberland County's transportation woes.
You can bet that if a lack of public transportation in Cumberland County was a problem that affected rich people, it would have been solved long ago.