How’s the county doing? Alliance detailed three key projects

Public officials and those involved in three key projects in Hudson County painted a bright face on the future of development during a gathering of the Hudson County Alliance for Change held at the Radisson Hotel in Secaucus on Feb. 21.

Among the projects reviewed were three of the county’s biggest developments: the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor, the Bergen Arches, and the Secaucus Transfer.

In addressing more than 100 business, labor and government representatives, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise sang the praises of the economic successes the county has had over the last few years.

“Hudson County,” he said, “has done a remarkable job in reinventing itself, particularly during the boom times of the 1990s. Hudson County – Jersey City – has attracted close to 20,000 new jobs and billions of dollars in reinvestment. This is almost all of the urban growth that the state of New Jersey had seen during that period of time.”

DeGise added, “Hudson County is the economic engine that fuels New Jersey’s economy.”

He said a generation ago, no one could have predicted that Goldman Sachs, Chase, American Express or a number of other major companies would have relocated to Hudson County.

“This didn’t happen by accident,” DeGise said. “This happened because Hudson County was able to leverage the wonderful geography that it has and parlayed that with our infrastructure improvements, tax incentives, training programs for workers, in developing a climate that was attractive for business to come here.”

DeGise said his challenge as county executive is to continue that momentum and to be ready for the next wave of business and investments to come to Hudson County.

“Not only along the Hudson River,” he said, “but all of the 12 towns that comprise Hudson County and the three rivers that cut through it.”

Among the projects, DeGise noted, was the former Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne that promises a spate of development as large as the city of Hoboken, with Bayonne Mayor Joseph V. Doria’s efforts to convert it into commercial offices, film studios, light industry and retail space.

“But Hudson County owns a piece of property along the Hackensack River called the Copper’s Coke site,” DeGise said. “This is one of the largest brownfields sites in the northeast that has a workable pier and a rail connection, and has been fallow land for a generation now. We need to develop that site to attract new jobs and new investment.”

He said on the Passaic River side of Hudson County, the city of Harrison has already broken ground to a new hotel that will be a prelude to a new development that would include a sports and entertainment complex, new residential and new commercial development.

“We need to continue to strategize as to how to take advantage of our geography and to make certain our infrastructure is ready for new development, even in slow economy,” he said, acknowledging the state’s efforts in helping Hudson County with such efforts as light rail. “This was a major investment in the redevelopment of Hudson County as part of his Smart Growth plan.”

Schools make a big part of the economy

Dr. Carolos Hernandez said schools of higher learning in Hudson County would get by, although colleges do face “some difficult times,” he said.

Hernandez said colleges would be making difficult choices, and cited his college, the New Jersey City University’s ending of its football program as one such sacrifice.

“We need to focus on core issues at the institution,” he said.

He compared the various elements, such as government, industry and schools as part of the human anatomy, all interdependent upon each other.

“The university for example — despite the budget crisis – is in a $50 million construction project to build up the capacity of that college,” he said. “Our universities and colleges need to grow significantly if we’re going to meet the needs of a growing number of high school students that will be graduating. There isn’t a college or university in New Jersey that isn’t planning for that kind of expansion.”

Hernandez said Hudson County is blessed with four very unique institutions of higher education. New Jersey City University is the only urban university in the state of New Jersey. St. Peter’s College is a private Jesuit college in Jersey City. Hudson County Community College has a two-year program. Stevens Institute of Technology is, in Hernandez’s words, a world-renowned institute for technological innovation and development. He said the collaboration between these four institutions, industry and government can fuel the economic growth in Hudson County.

Construction was strong for last five years

Eric Boyce of the Hudson County Building Trades said Hudson County is just finishing “five of the greatest years of construction work ever had.”

“We would like to do all we can to keep it going into the future,” he said. “For 2003-2004, the word is for us is ‘uncertainty.’ There are just so many things going on, that no one can say for sure what is going on. We have a lot of office space coming on the market all of a sudden and we don’t have a lot of tenant work going on in those buildings as we would like.”

He said building trades are looking more toward the public sector for work.

“Even within the tight budget constraints that our public officials face this year, we are encouraged by the commitment that we see for school construction,” he said.

He said in the Abbott Districts in Hudson County, $125 million in construction work will start in the coming year.

“We’re also continuing our work with the light rail,” he said, noting many people in the private and public sector “just wouldn’t quit until light rail became a reality.”

In additional reports, Mayor Doria outlined the details of what is the single biggest development project in the state of New Jersey – the redevelopment of Bayonne’s Military Ocean Terminal into a deepwater port, commercial, residential and office development at a cost that could reach $10 billion over the next 10 to 15 years.

The MOT, located on a 437-acre, 2-mile-long peninsula, was closed by the federal government and transferred to Bayonne in 1999 as part of a 1995 restructuring of the military facilities around the country. Although Bayonne fought the closing because it resulted in the loss of about 3,000 jobs, it has since developed an ambitious plan that could turn that piece of land into one of the most profitable in county.

Turnpike moves ahead

Further north on the Jersey City/Secaucus border, the development of the Secaucus Transfer Station and variety of connected projects could see a major change in associated development.

Jody Barankin, a transportation analyst for the state Department of Transportation, reported that the Bergen Arches, a long unused rail line running from Kennedy Boulevard to Palisade Avenue, may be used by the light rail, cars and buses to connect the diverse parts of the county now hampered by old, often clogged roadways. Barankin said the Bergen Arches remain one of the few “feasible untapped potential pathways” to and from the Hudson River waterfront. Some speculation includes a loop of the light rail that could also connect Giants Stadium and the sports complex to the Secaucus Transfer Station with a light rail traveling down the center of Meadowlands Parkway in Secaucus.

A nine-month DOT study, completed in September, concluded that the Bergen Arches could be used as a roadway for inbound and outbound traffic from the Secaucus Transfer with a bus/HOV lane for inbound traffic and a light rail line connecting Hoboken to the Meadowlands.

Richard J. Raczynski, chief engineer for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, said the Secaucus Transfer Station would open at some point this summer for limited use. The Turnpike Authority in an ancillary project will construct a new exchange to service the facility. This will include the moving the remains of 3,500 bodies once part of a Hudson County graveyard in the area. The plans include the construction of the exit ramp with associated toll booths, the extension of Seaview Drive in Secaucus to allow access to the transfer station and as an alternative truck route to the warehouse district, and the construction of a rail bridge over tracks leading to and from the Croxton rail yards in Jersey City.

Raczynski said New Jersey Transit has almost completed relocating the Bergen Rail line so trains traveling from Rutherford and other points in Bergen County will travel south to the Main Line tracks to access the Transfer Station. The former rail bed for the Bergen Line in Secaucus will be used to construct the Seaview Drive extension.

“The new exit will allow trucks to get into the warehouse district, have more direction, and avoid most of residential Secaucus,” he said.

The Turnpike interchange also fits into larger regional plans that include a possible truck route from Port Elizabeth to the Croxton rail yards as well as possible auto access to Tonnelle Avenue in Jersey City.

This project is part of a massive state and federal effort to increase intermodal distribution of freight, he said. Intermodal means packing containers with goods that can be loaded into ships, on flatbed train cars, or as the trailers of trucks to avoid the costly and lengthy need to repackage at various stages.

The Turnpike’s costs for the project, he said, amount to about $348 million, with most elements due to be complete sometime before or during 2004.

Art work for Allied on exhibit

Valerie Larko, one of two mural artists whose paintings of railroads from around the state will appear in the Secaucus Transfer Station, will be presenting her work over the next two weeks at the We Support the Arts’ Gallery 193 at 193 Broadway in Bayonne.

Valeri Larko lived in Jersey City for three and a half years after she completed art school, and those years – and the glimpses of Hudson County’s urban landscape – changed the way she looked at the world, helping to shape her art into something starker than she ever expected.

Her reputation in this field grew, and her work began to appear in numerous public buildings and office spaces around the state. These include the state Veterans’ Administration building, Rutgers University, and the Montclair Museum.

Among Larko’s subjects are the Pulaski Skyway, the IMTT petrochemical plant in Bayonne, and an abandoned cement factory near Liberty State Park.

Four murals will be displayed permanently at the Secaucus Transfer Station, which is scheduled to open this fall. Her work at the station will include four pieces: two large murals 27 1/2 feet long and two murals 13 feet long to fill three sides of the north Mezzanine waiting room.

“I think NJ Transit liked the themes I worked with,” she said, although she noted that the station project differed from projects in the past. Most times she worked live, painting on the scene. In this project, she was required to paint from photographs. Her panels include four scenes from around the state a rail bridge in West Trenton, another near the Delaware Water Gap, one bridge on the Jersey City Bayonne border and a fourth from Brielle.

The murals, which were commissioned by NJ Transit and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, depict four railroad bridges throughout the state and will be installed in the Transfer Station on March 25.

For more information about the gallery exhibit, call (201) 243-1000 or (201) 339-6437. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. – Al Sullivan


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