What do the $1.3 billion reconstruction of a bridge, a $310 million renovation of a highway toll plaza, and the $56 million building of a major ship-to-rail facility next to a container port mean for the city of Bayonne?
Short-term pain and long-term gain, according to city officials and the agencies involved with the three projects.
The major infrastructure projects will add to Bayonne’s significance in Hudson County, the tristate area, and the eastern seaboard.
The Pulaski Skyway renovation in Jersey City and the building of a new Goethals Bridge between Elizabeth and Staten Island are also in the works.
For the next three to four years, the various projects will continue to have a significant impact on Bayonne and Jersey City residents and workers, as they commute to and from the city each day.
The turnpike and rail link work are expected to be completed in 2018. The bridge work, originally scheduled for a second quarter 2017 completion, has been pushed back at least until mid-2019, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey announced in October. That delay could cost the Port Authority up to another $195 million.
Early traffic and access problems from the nearly simultaneous projects of the turnpike and bridge sent Bayonne into a frenzy in the spring.
Traffic into the city during the morning rush hour took as much as an hour and a half for what had typically been a half-hour drive, some said.
But after Mayor James Davis met with key stakeholders, the cities, agencies, workers, commuters, and residents seem to be dealing better with infrastructure work.
Bridgework, not the dental kind
The $1.3 billion Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Program, better known as the “Raise the Roadway” project, seeks to keep Port Newark/Port Elizabeth one of the top container ports in the country. The work will raise the height of the roadway 64 feet, from 151 to 215 feet, to allow for larger container ships coming from the Panama Canal in the next few years to cross under it.
New sections of roadway continue to be added to the Bayonne Bridge. Officials said much of the heavy work, like pier drilling on the Bayonne side, is finished, so the vibrations downtown residents were subjected to early on have abated.
“It provides more economic activity for the surrounding area.” – Joseph DeMarco
When completed, the Bayonne Bridge is expected to create more than $1.5 billion in regional economic activity. The bridge will have wider 12-foot lanes, a median divider, and shoulders, and a wider, full-length shared walkway and bikeway.
The roadway will also be quieter and will have acceleration and deceleration lanes. There is also the potential for the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system to extend over the bridge.
The ExpressRail Port Jersey ship-to-rail facility adjacent to GCT Bayonne will provide the port terminal with direct access to rail services to ship products across the country.
When the ExpressRail Port Jersey facility in Greenville Yard wraps up in 2018, it is expected to greatly reduce truck traffic and result in significant environmental benefits for the region.
“It will take 1,000 trucks a day off the road,” Davis said. “It will help with turnpike traffic. Those containers will go right onto the rail line.”
Business Administrator Joseph DeMarco said the rail line will benefit the immediate area, especially with nearby businesses like Ports America and BMW.
“It keeps the port active in this area, vibrant and competitive with the rest of the country,” he said. “It provides more economic activity for the surrounding area.”
Getting on the turnpike
The $160 million New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s Interchange 14A Improvement Project will allow for faster movement to and from Bayonne, and address a long-needed upgrade to the toll plaza.
Recent turnpike work included the change of traffic direction on 53rd Street and the demolition of one side of the connector bridge.
When finished, the project will add two lanes to the toll plaza, one in each direction, and will do away with the traffic light at 53rd Street, allowing vehicles to turn right without stopping. A new roundabout will keep traffic moving at all times.
The present connector bridge changes from one lane in each direction and no shoulder to two lanes and a shoulder in each direction.
It will also allow for direct access to the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor, without having to enter Route 440.
“The hidden benefits are the improved access to the city,” DeMarco said. “Businesses will grow, there will be more sites for new businesses accessible, and the rental market will open up more.”
Residential projects moving along
The city is also seeking to greatly improve its housing stock with the several new residential projects recently given the green light, including a 22-story tower for North Street and a 9- or 10-story building for 46th Street and Broadway. A residential complex by the Kill Van Kull and Newark Bay was approved for building heights to increase from five to 10 stories.
These join projects already underway at Kennedy Boulevard and 44th Street, Dodge Street and Broadway, and 14th Street and Broadway.
Over the last year or so, luxury apartment complexes have opened at 18th Street and Avenue E and 3rd Street and Kennedy Boulevard.
The former Alexan CityView complex, the initial development on the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor, was recently sold, has been renamed Harbor Pointe, and is primed for additions, according to Castle Lanterra Properties, its new owners.
Since the site still has nearby vacant land, and has already been written into the city’s master plan, it is ripe for expansion, according to Benjamin Loney, Castle Lanterra’s head of acquisitions.
“The surrounding area features a number of opportunities for growth, and we are in discussions with landowners of neighboring parcels to either joint venture with them on putting together combined amenities when they start to build, or to purchase their land to expand what we are able to offer our residents,” Loney said.
Officials hoping for resurgence
With all the construction projects ongoing or planned, city officials are hoping to see a revitalized Bayonne like its neighbors Hoboken and Jersey City saw over the last couple of decades.
“Bayonne is on the upswing in terms of new development and attracting new residents and businesses,” DeMarco said.
Bayonne Chamber of Commerce President Matt Dorans believes that the investment in infrastructure in Bayonne over the last few years, including the addition of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and its extension down to 8th Street, has made Bayonne much more economically viable.
He also feels that the new residential developments are a sign of Bayonne’s resurgence.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.