From the top of the “100 Steps” connecting Hoboken with Jersey City Heights, you can see for miles. You can also see a newly installed monument to former Councilman Bill Gaughan, who is credited with helping to get the steps restored.
The public officials who gathered at the top of the historic steps on June 16 included Mayor Steven Fulop and former Mayors Bret Schundler and Jerramiah Healy, County Executive Tom DeGise, state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, and others who served with Gaughan over his 20-year stint as Ward D councilman.
Nearly from the day he took office in 1993 as councilman for Jersey City Heights, Gaughan aimed to repair the “100 Steps” connecting that part of Jersey City with Hoboken.
“Today is a special and historic day, as we dedicate the 100 Steps in honor of our city’s longest serving councilman, Bill Gaughan,” said Mayor Fulop. “In his 20 years on the council, Bill never lost sight of the goal of restoring these steps for the residents of the Heights and to bring countless improvement to the community.”
A problem that needed a solution
DeGise, a lifelong resident of the Heights, said he used to walk the original steps to go to a bowling alley in Hoboken as a kid. He recalled that during one visit in 1993, he and Gaughan noticed the deplorable and dangerous condition of the steps.
“We decided something had to be done,” DeGise said, crediting Gaughan’s persistence at eventually getting the stairs rebuilt.
Constructed in the late 19th century, the steps were originally known as the “Franklin Street Steps.” The steps were actively used until the 1920s when they were closed after they started to crumble and became unsafe.
“Today is a special and historic day as we dedicate the 100 Steps in honor of our city’s longest serving councilman, Bill Gaughan.” – Mayor Fulop
The steps are an alternative to a long steep sidewalk on Mountain Road, a county thoroughfare with a tight hairpin turn surrounded by woods.
More expensive than expected
An opportunity to rebuild the steps came in 2003 when Brass Works Urban Renewal, the developer of the Cliffs Lofts at 100 Paterson Plank Rd., agreed to rebuild the 100 Steps as part of its development deal with Jersey City. Residents in the Heights hoped the stairway would be finished by the time the 120-unit development was completed in 2008. But the project took five years longer to complete and the steps were reopened in November 2013.
The original estimate for construction was $250,000 and was supposed to be paid entirely by The Cliffs developer as a condition for receiving a final certificate of occupancy. But as the price tag for the project grew, Brass Works Urban Renewal told the city it could not afford to take on the project. The total estimate for the restoration came in at just under $1 million.
In 2010, the city agreed to take over the 100 Steps project from Brass Works Urban Renewal and, at the time, planned to use about $144,000 from the developer, plus a $300,000 New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) grant, and $256,883 in city funding to get the job done.
Gaughan said this was the first major reconstruction of the steps since they were built. He credited the Riverview Neighborhood Association for lending their sweat equity to make the project possible. The City Council voted in January of this year to name them “Bill Gaughan Way.”
The naming was not without controversy, however.
Last year, the Riverview Neighborhood Association lobbied to have the stairs named after the late Maria Tuzzo, who spent 30 years trying to get the stairs rebuilt. The RNA objected to the city ignoring what they called standard practice of consulting the local neighborhood association before a public facility was named to honor a specific individual.
Stairs will help The Heights
DeGise said the newly reconstructed stairs play a huge role in the growth of Jersey City Heights, allowing residents quicker and safer access to the Second Street Station of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail.
“The Western Slope has traditionally been the hot place in Jersey City Heights,” DeGise said. “Now because of access to the Light Rail, the eastern side has become the hot spot.”
DeGise credited Gaughan with pushing to have Jersey City Heights included in some of the transit plans once it became clear that the Light Rail route would be located at the foot of the Heights and not along the Hudson River as originally planned.
“This couldn’t be named better,” Healy said. “The mayor and City Council has chosen (to name it) after the man who served five consecutive terms, 20 years, and as I’ve said, was the main advocate and prime mover of this very important, very necessary connection.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.