City officials are scrambling to hang on to a $300,000 New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) grant that had been earmarked for a pedestrian walkway from the Jersey City Heights to Hoboken after failing to hire a construction contractor for the project last month. After years of repeated delays, residents are now wondering how much longer they will have to wait for this project to be completed.
The project, known as “100 Steps,” is supposed to connect the Palisade Cliffs in the Heights to Paterson Plank Road near the Cliffs, a luxury residential loft development in Jersey City located near the Second Street Light Rail Station in Hoboken. This light rail station is just a short ride to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail’s Hoboken terminal, which connects to the PATH train and several NJ Transit rail lines. Residents in the Heights see the completion of these steps as essential to connecting their neighborhood to transit hubs in the area.
“The city never forces developers to keep their agreements.” – Becky Hoffman, RNA
The city had planned to use the $300,000 NJDOT grant to offset the estimated $700,000 in construction costs to build the steps. To do this, however, the city needed to award a construction contract by July 3, 2012 or risk losing the state money. The City Council last month failed to approve a $1.7 million bid from the only contractor who submitted a bid for the project. The bid was rejected since it was well over the $700,000 construction estimate.
The city now finds itself in the position of having to re-bid the construction contract while lobbying to keep the state grant.
“We are rebidding the contract so we can find a contractor who meets the bid specifications,” said Rosemary McFadden, chief of staff to Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy. “We’re also in contact with the Department of Transportation and talking to them about keeping the $300,000 grant. We don’t think that will be a problem.”
Residents are, however, frustrated by this latest delay and wonder how much longer they will have to wait for the stairway project to be completed.
“One of the main reasons why people moved to the Heights is because of its proximity to Hoboken and New York,” said Becky Hoffman, president of the Riverview Neighborhood Association. “The 100 Steps project is essential to people getting to and from work, but also being able to go into Hoboken for restaurants and other activities. So it’s important to our local commerce as well.”
Until the 1920s there was a 100-step stairway that connected Hoboken to the Heights. This stairway was closed in the ’20s after the steps started to crumble and became unsafe. The original “100 Steps” were later removed in the 1990s.
As Jersey City and Hoboken were redeveloped and began attracting New York City workers and people who wanted to commute easily between the three cities, residents began lobbying for the stairway to be rebuilt.
An opportunity and solution seemed to come along in 2003 when Brass Works Urban Renewal, the developer of the Cliffs, agreed to rebuild the “100 Steps” as part of its development deal with Jersey City. At the time, residents in the Heights hoped the stairway would be finished by the time the 120-unit development was completed in 2008.
As the estimated cost to rebuild the 100-step stairway rose from $250,000 to $700,000, however, Brass Works Urban Renewal told the city it could not afford to take on the project. In 2010, the city agreed to take over the “100 Steps” project from Brass Works Urban Renewal and planned to use about $144,000 from the developer, plus a $300,000 NJDOT grant, and $256,883 in city funding to get the job done.
Some residents, Hoffman said, opposed this shift in responsibility from the developer to the city.
“The city never forces developers to keep their agreements,” Hoffman stated. “Developers know they can make an agreement, get what they want out of the city, then renegotiate to get out their commitment later. And this is very frustrating for residents because you know the city will always look out for the developer’s interests. But what about the residents? What about our interests?”
Despite opposition, the city last year said it planned to have the steps completed by the spring or summer of 2012.
New bids by fall?
Fall is just two months away and the 100 Steps project has yet to get underway. In addition, the city concedes that a construction contract needed to be awarded by July 3 for it to access the $300,000 NJDOT grant.
McFadden said a new RFP (request for proposals) will be issued later this month and she believes the project can still get started this year.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.