The busy, four-way intersection at Kennedy Boulevard and 32nd Street that runs through Union City and North Bergen has been a hazard to pedestrians for over a decade. So much so, that the matter has been the stuff of political platforms for just as long.
Union City Mayor Brian Stack began the crusade for the building of a pedestrian bridge across the boulevard as a freeholder in 2000, after which Freeholder Tilo Rivas followed suit.
“There has been a need for a pedestrian bridge for years,” Stack said. “There have been numerous accidents, and in particular, senior citizens and women with strollers have had a difficult time making it across before the light changes.”
Twelve years later, two steel structural columns are finally being erected: one on the North Bergen side by the Fritz Reuter retirement community center, and one on the Union City side near the Kennedy Center mall and the Ihop.
“I began working on the bridge many years ago and have always thought it was a good project,” North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said. “It has taken a long time to get off the ground, but I am pleased to see that it is now coming to fruition.”
The columns will support a covered pedestrian bridge that will usher people safely across Kennedy Boulevard as soon as August, Hudson County Engineer Demetrio Arencibia said last week.
A $4.7 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration was authorized in November 2010, and Flanagan’s Contracting Group of Hillsborough, N.J. won the bid for the project.
Discussion concerning the naming of the bridge is also underway.
“This is a well-needed, long-awaited bridge,” Stack said. “It will save a lot of lives, stop a lot of accidents from taking place, and will benefit shoppers on both sides.”
Bridge of Hudson County
“This is a long-established artery owned by the county,” the county executive’s office Director of Communications Jim Kennelly said, “so making significant change like this takes time and money.”
The county attempted to make smaller changes to calm the traffic over the years, like adding left-hand turn lanes and building brick pavers along the more difficult crossing areas, he added.
The county first applied for the grant around eight years ago, Arencibia said. There were several issues surrounding building a bridge in that particular area, one of which is the historical value of the properties that lie next to where the columns are being built, he added.
“Obtaining federal money always requires going through all kinds of checks and balances,” Arencibia explained, “but in the end, the preferred alternative and, thankfully, the one approved was the bridge.”
The construction contract was awarded in November 2010 and construction plans officially began on May 15, 2011. Field work began in August.
Once construction on the columns is completed, construction of the actual overpass is set to begin in May, Assistant County Engineer Joseph Glembocki estimated. During this time, Kennedy Boulevard will be temporarily closed and traffic will be detoured around the area at night “to minimize inconvenience,” he added.
Improvements to the actual roadway and traffic signal replacements are scheduled to begin in April. “In the end it was decided that this was the best way to ensure optimal pedestrian safety,” Glembocki said.
“[The pedestrian bridge] will save a lot of lives [and] stop a lot of accidents from taking place.” – Brian Stack
The bridge’s architecture will take on what Arencibia termed “German revival style;” a style similar to the Fritz Reuter building. The towers will eventually have a “brick look” to them, and the actual overpass will be constructed with a glass and steel facade.
“You’ll be able to see the people inside,” he said, “and the roofline will look like the Fritz Reuter roof.”
The towers will have both elevators and steps to access the overpass.
“It will be a significant, physical change to the neighborhood,” Kennelly said. “Everyone has worked together to make sure it will fit in well.”
A bridge by any other name
Hudson County Genealogical and Historical Society board member and Union City resident Kathie Pontis has suggested a name for the bridge that mirrors the way it links North Bergen and Union City together.
She hopes the bridge will be named after Dr. Frederick Reines, a North Bergen resident who died at 70 years old in 1998. He lived on Kennedy Boulevard and 57th Street.
Because there was no high school specifically for North Bergen residents during his childhood, Reines attended what used to be Union Hill High School in Union City and graduated in 1935.
He went on to win a Nobel Prize for discovering the neutrino, and became a Nobel Laureate in Physics in 1995.
“My reasoning behind the name is, first, that this man deserves to be honored for his work,” Pontis said, “and second, because of the connection his life and the bridge share to both Union City and North Bergen. I believe it would give kids in the area incentive to achieve by saying, ‘Hey, you too can win a Nobel Prize!’”
“I would certainly not be adverse to naming it after such an important local figure,” Stack said.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com.