Hope and hassles on Main Street
Washington Street rebuilding generates optimism and critiques
by Marilyn Baer
Reporter Staff Writer
Aug 13, 2017 | 3694 views | 1 1 comments | 181 181 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Construction on Washington Street won’t be completed until July 2018.
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Hoboken is several months into an 18-month long reconstruction of its main shopping district, Washington Street. Vehicles lurch and rattle over patched and re-patched pavement, channeled by police into narrow gauntlets lined with cones to avoid the work crews and construction equipment as they tear up pavement, reconfigure intersections, and lay new water pipe.

The $17.5 million project, approved by an 8-1 council vote in 2016, will replace old water mains, add safety features like bump outs, timed pedestrian crossing signals, ADA compliant ramps, and repave the patched and pothole covered road.

Some residents have raised concerns over the project in letters to the editor to the Hudson Reporter and at City Council meetings, citing traffic woes during construction and questioning the feasibility of bump outs, though other residents praise the upgrade.

“I think it’s going to incorporate a lot of great safety features,” said Chris Adair, 15 year resident and president of Bike Hoboken. “I mean, I personally haven’t had an issue with crossing the street but I do feel for some people it’s more difficult; if you’re a senior citizen or handicapped or moms with strollers.”

“I like the pedestrian safety aspects that will be implemented like the high visibility crosswalks and bump outs,” added Adair. “It’ll make it a lot safer for pedestrians. I have heard a few people mention, but it tends to be a very vocal minority in the city. I think sometimes change is really hard. If you look at Hoboken 100 years ago, and now, you are looking at the evolution of the street and this town. In another 100 years it probably won’t look the same at all.”

On the other hand, nine-year resident Steve said, “The cones are crazy. I don’t even know which ways I’m supposed to be driving sometimes. It’s like a maze. Also, these bump outs. How are trucks going to make turns? I just don’t see it.”

“I was crossing Hudson Street going East to go to the PATH,” said resident Mary Ondrejka in an email, “when this huge truck tried to turn a corner from Newark onto Hudson. The truck had to back up two times and then almost hit the pedestrian pole that has a button for people to press so they can cross the small distance of road on Hudson Street. There will be four pedestrian poles on each corner of Washington Street that will be targets for trucks to hit trying to navigate the curb extensions they eventually put in.”

The Washington Street redesign

The redesign of Washington Street was originally conceived in 2013 and after undergoing a public process and several design iterations it became a reality in February 2016 when the council approved the project.

The project includes of 15 new traffic signals with pedestrian countdown timers, an emergency pre-emption system and optimized signal timing, installation of concrete sidewalk bump outs at all four corners of intersections, and the replacement of the town’s century old water mains and service lines.

The project will also include resurfacing of the street from Observer Highway to 15th Street, high visibility crosswalks, and dedicated commercial loading zones.

There will also be 15 new rain gardens to capture stormwater to help reduce the impact of flooding, ADA handicap curb ramps at each intersection, and the existing street lights will be refurbished.

Lastly the installation of conduits for a future electrical microgrid and fiber optic cabling will also be done.

The contract was awarded for $17.5 million and “approximately $100,000 in additional work has been authorized on the project which is 0.5 percent of the contract,” said Jaclyn Flor from Engenuity Infrastructure, the spokeswoman for the Washington Street Project.

According to Flor, “The project is being funded through by multiple sources.”

This includes a low interest loan for $9 million from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program for the water distribution system and green infrastructure [and] drainage improvements. The traffic signal and road improvements are being partially funded through Municipal Aid Grants totaling almost $1 million from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Project, and from the city budget.

The date of completion was rescheduled for July 24, 2018 after the city council granted a 60 day extension. All work from Observer Highway to Eighth Street is scheduled to be completed by Jan. 20, 2018.

If they do not meet the final deadline the contractor must pay the city $5,000 a day and $150 an hour for engineering and inspection costs.

Construction so far

“The challenge of this project is advancing the construction while also keeping Washington Street functioning as a major travel way for pedestrians, cars, buses, delivery vehicles and emergency vehicles and keeping the businesses and residences open and accessible,” said Flor. “To balance these needs, the city engaged all stakeholders throughout the design process and has developed a robust community outreach program providing constant updates via social media, a website entirely devoted to the project, and having inspection professionals onsite to be able to respond quickly to any issues that may arise during construction.”

Some of the below-ground infrastructure is so old construction workers occasionally stumble upon problems or undocumented infrastructure even though test pits, field surveys and a review of records and drawings were performed prior to construction.

“As is typical of any underground utility project, field modifications are made as necessary to complete the construction,” said Flor.

According to one resident, one such field modification may be necessary at the corner of Seventh and Washington Streets.

“I was speaking with them the other day at the construction at Seventh Street where they are putting in curb extensions and I was told they can’t move the catch basins because there is an electrical conduit in the street they didn’t know about,” Ondrejka said. “How will rain drain properly now?”

When asked about the particular intersection Flor said: “The curb bump outs at Seventh are being constructed now to assist with pedestrian safety and to minimize construction disruption in advance of the school year.”

In regards to the planned bump outs, she said “Based on crash data analyzed for the project from 2010 to 2013, there were 17 vehicular-pedestrian collisions on Washington Street. A large fraction of collisions occurred during vehicular turning movements. Curb bump outs at intersections improve visibility and shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians crossing within crosswalks on Washington.”

She added, “In the design phase of the project, turning templates were performed for all vehicles including fire trucks using Hoboken specific fire truck size, and the curb bump outs are designed to accommodate these turning movements. The issue we have heard regarding the curb bump out is that they prevent parking near intersections. However, no parking is allowed within the areas of the bump out as per state regulations. “

Although Flor said nothing archeologically significant has been discovered during construction they did discover “the clustered traffic signal at First and Washington was arguably of the oldest continuously operating working traffic light in the United States.”

“The city is currently considering displaying the light in the Hoboken Museum,” she added.

Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

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August 13, 2017
It was disappointing that the some of the historic large bluestone slabs that formed the sidewalk in front of City Hall were sacrificed to install the concrete bump outs.