Some residents living in the area of the bridge—especially those living in the nine houses adjacent to the Port Authority property where much of the support work is being conducted for the raising of the Bayonne Bridge roadway.
Residents expressed distrust of the Port Authority after years of problems with the bridge, especially falling paint from the sides of the bridge.
Many residents who spoke at the Bayonne City Council meeting on Sept. 18 said they wanted the city to take a more active role in protecting the interests of taxpayers.
Tracy Fuza, a resident of one of nine houses near the bridge, told the council that she did not feel safe, and was among other residents, who said they were skeptical of assurances offered them by the Port Authority.
Of about 15 people who attended the council meeting, four said that they did not have confidence that the Port Authority would look out for their interests, despite attending several pre-construction conferences.
The goal of the project is to raise the roadway so that larger cargo vessels can pass under the bridge and access the ports along Newark Bay.
If not completed, this cargo—which accounts for a huge part of the local economy, from shipping and trucking to warehousing and retail sales—would shift to other available ports on the East Coast. Not only would this result in a loss of jobs, but it would also likely increase pollution in the area since many of the goods would have to be shipped from other ports, increasing road traffic and pollution.
Fast tracked by The White House, the project has gotten the blessing of all levels of government, and according to City Business Administrator Steve Gallo, would benefit many people once completed.
Fuza, who favors the project, said she had concerns about safety and the impact on her home and well-being during the two to three years of construction.
As Bayonne Bridge flakes away
Other residents said they were not confident in the promises the Port Authority made because concerns raised prior to this project went unheeded, especially those regarding the flaking paint, rust, and other debris from the bridge that filled their swimming pools and yards.
In some cases, yards of residents will be used for machinery and other support apparatus, raising even more concerns.
Bill Young of the Port Authority said work would move to the other side, away from these homes as the project advanced.
Residents would be notified and given the option to be housed in quality hotels.
Santiago Fernandez, a former welder, said he had concerns about the cranes that would be operating out of his yard and the risk they pose if one should topple onto his house.
“I have four grandchildren living in my house,” he said.
Other residents asked about getting kids to schools during those periods and about the impact on quality of life, saying they cannot sell their homes during the two years of construction. If a tenant moves out—either because of the impact of the construction or for some other reason—the homeowners will not likely get new tenants, and this would have an impact on their ability to pay their mortgages.
Fernandez, who had apparently discussed these issues with Port Authority officials, said the city should be looking out for the interests of residents.
Councilmembers Debra Czerwienski and Agnes Gillespie said they were very concerned about the safety of the residents and will respond if residences have an issue.
“I was a safety engineer before I became a teacher,” Czerwienski said. “But I know the Port Authority will do everything in their power to assure safety.”
Fernandez, however, said the Port Authority has never done a project like this before and has not taken into account the financial and quality-of-life impacts that residents there face. He said he is concerned about asbestos that may be mixed with the cement from the original construction, and the impact of lead paint falling into his yard.
Other residents also raised potential health issues, saying that some of the impacts may not be felt for years, long after the project had been completed. Left unsaid were concerns about the many health issues first responders suffered after working near the former World Trade Center Towers. Although modern standards require that builders use construction materials that pose no risk to health, many materials used in the construction of the World Trade Center Towers and the Bayonne Bridge used materials that are now considered hazardous.
Fernandez said he has complained to the Port Authority for 16 years about safety issues and has little confidence that they will listen to his concerns now.
Kevin Hennings cited other impacts such as lack of parking in the area because of construction vehicles and bridge workers sitting on residents’ cars during breaks or lunch.
The accidental break in a nearby sewer line only exacerbated these concerns. Hennings’s home is a few blocks away and was flooded after workers accidently cut a line that was previously thought unused.
While the Port Authority has agreed to reimburse residents for the losses, some residents believe that the issue only highlighted potential problems over the next two or three years as work advances on the bridge.
Councilman Ray Greaves said he was surprised by the previous complaints by residents living under the shadow of the bridge, but assured them that he would address any future problems if they reached out to him or other members of the city council.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.