Scaling the Heights Light rail begins construction on elevator along the Palisades

Unhappy with problems caused by NJ Transit’s six-month blasting of the Bergen train tunnel, residents of Jersey City Heights insisted on being briefed at a neighborhood association meeting Wednesday about aspects of a different upcoming rail project. In that project, NJ Transit intends to, as part of its ongoing construction of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail system, build a 110-foot elevator from a train station at the base of the Palisades up to Paterson Plank Road.

The light rail train will run from Bayonne through Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, North Bergen, and Bergen County when completed. It will include a Ninth Street train station at the base of the Palisades on the Hoboken/Jersey City border.

For many residents in the Heights, the tunnel blasting that accompanied the restoration of the Bergen Tunnel by NJ Transit became a public nuisance; thus, they want to be vigilant about other upcoming rail projects in their area.

Complaints about the noise from the all-day, all-night Bergen Tunnel operation emerged alongside a host of others. What had been originally described as a “slight vibration” by New Jersey Transit sent tremors in the Heights that residents described as an “earthquake.” Even when the blasting was completed for the day, sounds of jackhammers and falling boulders created noise pollution well past midnight.

In addition, two homes on Waverly Street found burrows of rats nestling in their basements in February. Although they could not prove that they were a direct result of the blasting, it was clear that the rats had burrowed upwards. Health inspectors later discovered that New Jersey had not baited the area for blasting.

Other residents complained of structural damage from the blasting. Discussions on compensating the affected individuals continue to take place.

Ward C Councilman Steve Lipski said that a community meeting regarding structural damage in the Heights due to tunnel blasting has been scheduled for May 14 at the Ukranian Center on 90 Fleet St. at 7 p.m. “We’re going to have a civil meeting,” Lipski said. “[NJ Transit] is going to investigate [the claims].”

Lipski added that the Waverly Street families who have been burdened with exterminating fees are on the brink of reaching a financial settlement with NJ Transit.

Wednesday’s meeting

Council President L. Harvey Smith, Ward D Councilman William Gaughan, and Lipski joined members of the Riverview Neighborhood Association for the Hudson Bergen Light Rail presentation Wednesday. The council, also disenchanted by the effects of the tunnel blasting, had voted down a resolution granting NJ Transit the authority to begin construction on the elevator at the April 10 council meeting until they promised to set up an informative meeting with the area residents and agreed to settle disputes stemming from the tunnel-blasting episode.

Although the light rail is an NJ Transit project, it has been designed, constructed, and supervised by 21st Century Rail. The elevator will anchor the development of the Ninth Street station. Half a dozen representatives from the railway company provided answers to residents about security issues, traffic concerns, and the timeframe of the project.

Because the elevator is being built from the base of the cliff in an abandoned section of Jersey City right next to Hoboken, residents wanted assurances that the new infrastructure would be secure. John Johnston, president of Hudson Bergen Light Rail, said Wednesday that cameras would be monitored by the security guards in the Communipaw Avenue headquarters of the light rail. Those security guards, in turn, would have control over the elevators and a link to the Hoboken and Jersey City police departments. The elevator would also have a two-way radio system inside that would allow civilians to contact security at the headquarters.

An adjacent staircase would only be used for emergency purposes, canceling out opportunities for people to loiter inside, and the elevator would be shut down from 1a.m. to 5 a.m. when the train is not running.

Aside from building the elevator tower, the company will widen Paterson Plank Road to allow buses and cars to pull over on the side and drop people off at the elevator. Oleh Ciuk, the engineering manager for Hudson Bergen Light Rail, said that Paterson Plank Road would remain a two-way street during this road construction.

Lastly, residents mentioned rat-sightings on the streets during the daytime and wanted to know if precautionary measures had been taken to control the rodent population.

Michele Butchko, director of community relations for the light rail, promised that the area was baited and agreed to bait more areas along the edge of the Heights.

Located on Ninth Street, the steel, brick and glass rectangular tower will house two elevators that hold approximately 20 people each. Recently, architects and designers at 21st Century Rail abandoned a neon-colored facade for a more stately reddish brick with a green accent on the steel beams.

“It would minimize the impact on the view,” Johnston said, referring to the Manhattan skyline view that is vital to property values on Paterson Plank Road.

Contractually known as a Design Build Operate and Maintain (DBOM) agreement, 21st Century Rail has agreed to develop and supervise the light rail for 15 years, anticipating that their contract will be renewed with NJ Transit once it expires. Building the elevator constitutes $5.5 million out of the $1.7 billion Hudson Bergen Light Rail project.


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group