A hill of a challenge
North Bergen has to grapple with bumpy roads, especially in winter
by Hannington Dia
Reporter Staff Writer
Oct 29, 2017 | 1468 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HILLS
The infamous Hillside Avenue hill behind North Bergen's Town Hall, one of the many steep inclines in town.
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North Bergen officials have long argued that the town is the second hilliest municipality in the country, trailing only San Francisco. While there doesn’t seem to be an official source for this claim, North Bergen, situated atop the Hudson Palisades, is known for its massive hills, such as the one immediately behind Town Hall. Or the winding and twisting Bulls Ferry Road drop to the waterfront, near Braddock Park, a longboarder's dream.

That means various types of difficulties, especially in storms.

“The major problem is the snow,” said DPW Superintendent John Shaw. “We have hills from Fifth Street all the way up to 92nd Street. We use a lot of salt during the season. In a bad season, we can fill our salt barn with as much as $250,000 worth in salt.”

Currently, the town has 4,500 tons of salt and 16 trucks on standby for snowstorms this winter, and the inclines only exacerbate cleaning the streets.

As a result, the town has to fit its bigger trucks with oversized brake drums and lining, due to gravity working against salt loads on the hills.

Sidewalk maintenance also becomes that more important on the inclines. “You have to make sure that the residents are cleaning their sidewalks properly,” Shaw said. “You can't have residents walking down these hills on icy, snowy sidewalks. If your butt hits the ground, you could potentially slide to Tonnelle Avenue.”

He added, “The hill areas tend to be one of the first areas that we look at after a storm,” Shaw said, to ensure the sidewalks are clean.

The hills force North Bergen to act faster than its neighbors in combating snow. “Other townships can wait and bring out their crews a little bit later,” Shaw said. “We don't wait for the snow to come down. Usually, we're ready with trucks loaded, ready to go, before the flakes come down. When we see the first flake, we're out there.”

DPW workers also put brine, a solution of salt and water, before any storms, on the hills. This immediately causes the first snow falls to melt right away. “We're one of the townships that are out first,” Shaw said.”Everybody looks for us.”

“When they see North Bergen's out, they'll start to call their people in,” said Assistant DPW Superintendent Frank Englese.

Some of the streets are also narrow, which creates a navigation problem.

“We ask people in town to park away from the curb and on corners during a snowstorm, because our plows are pretty big, and we need the ability to get down the street,” Shaw said. The town has also purchased oversized Oshkosh Defense military grade vehicles that can make sharper turns on the hills, and regular streets.

Because of the hills, the town also keeps certain routes open for emergency vehicles during storms. They include 91st, 79th, 76th, 51st and 46th Streets. “Those main drags are always open,” Shaw said.

“Even in the heat of the storm, we make sure those roads are always passable,” Englese added.

Flooding

Snowstorms aren't the only issue the hills make more complex. Residents who live at the bottom of the hills can face flooding situations during severe rainstorms, the DPW says.

“The sewer system in the township is old,” Shaw said. “If it rolls downhill, it tends to flood more in certain areas.”

Sometimes the flooding comes into the DPW yards and forces Tonnelle Avenue to be shut down, Shaw said.

“I think we'd like to say that our sewer drainage takes a little bit more of a beating maybe from heavy rain,” Englese said. “There’s a surge that our storm and sewer lines take. All that water's rushing into our catch basins, into our storm drainage.”

Repairs and garbage pickup

The town must take extra precautions while during repair work on the inclines, according to the DPW.

“We bring companies here to pave our roads sometimes, and they look at the grade of the hills and go, 'I think we'll pass on this one,'” Englese said. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to pave these hills.”

“Some companies won't bid on this town when it comes to paving our streets, because of the hills,” Shaw said.

To fill potholes on the hills, the DPW brings a couple of extra men; drivers are not allowed to leave the trucks to help.

“I wouldn't want him stopping a truck on a hill and getting out,” Shaw said. “God forbid, something goes wrong, you need a driver in the truck. Whereas they're doing it on flatland, a driver can pull up to a pothole and assist.”

Even during garbage pickup on the hills, the drivers do not leave their trucks. “You can always steer away if the brakes go,” Shaw said. When they reach flat territory, the driver will get out and assist. DPW workers also make sure their trucks are completely empty before picking up garbage on the hills, to put less strain on them.

Consolidated responses

Before a storm hits, different town departments meet and coordinate with each other at a command center for a unified response. That includes North Bergen police, commissioners, superintendent of schools, etc.

“All the departments meet, every single department in town,” Shaw said. “We coordinate with each other what we're going to do.”

As an example, whenever DPW workers are plowing streets, North Bergen officers accompany them. This is in case a car is blocking access to a certain street. In that case, the officer can immediately run the vehicle's license plates, locate the owner, and try to have them move the vehicle.

“PD works hand in hand with us during these storms,” Englese said.

“We all work together for the safety of the residents,” Shaw said.

Hannington Dia can be reached at hd@hudsonreporter.com

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